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SEO Plagiarism

July 2, 2008
Over the past few weeks, I've had a few run-ins with plagiarism in various forms and thought I'd take the opportunity to have a little rant about it. My hope is that by discussing it, people will become more educated about the issue and perhaps it will become a little less rampant online.

Plagiarism as it relates to SEO (or the Internet in general) is not quite the same as copyright infringement. With copyright infringement, a person might take an entire article or other written work from someone and copy and paste it as is, claiming to be the author, or providing no author at all. Copyright infringement is a huge problem for anyone who publishes regularly online, and it is fairly easy to spot. You can paste a sentence from your article into Google (using quotes) and see what else shows up in the search results. Don't be surprised to see some versions of your work under someone else's name!

Plagiarism, on the other hand, is more insidious. One definition of plagiarism (from Dictionary.com) is: "The unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work."

Notice that it says "close imitation" and also that it mentions "thoughts" and not just the language. In other words, one could plagiarize an article or parts of an article without actually using the same words that the original author used. If someone read an article and then rewrote it point for point, but used their own words, it would still be plagiarism. Even if they only took a few points and completely rewrote them, it would be plagiarism because the ideas and thoughts presented were not their own but someone else's.

The fact is that most plagiarists do use some of the exact words of the original, and that's how they get caught. From what I've seen, it appears that they copy and paste whole paragraphs into their article, and then just rearrange the words a bit and perhaps add a few of their own. This may make it tricky to spot via traditional copyright infringement detection methods, but not impossible. And certainly, when the original author of the material reads the plagiarized version, they recognize it in an instant.

I haven't yet decided whether plagiarists (a) were not taught how to properly cite other people's work and give credit where credit is due, (b) have no idea that it's wrong, or (c) are just lazy and/or unoriginal and don't care. Or perhaps it's some combination of those. It's hard to imagine anyone graduating from college (or high school, actually) and not knowing how and why to properly cite sources. I do think our educational system is partly to blame because some schools let kids get away with plagiarism without realizing it.

For some plagiarists, it might even be an ego thing. Perhaps they want people to think they're smart and that they thought up everything on their own, and therefore don't cite the original sources. Others may actually have no idea how to figure stuff out on their own, and they can only parrot what others say because they really don't understand the underlying concepts.

Regardless of the reasons, plagiarism runs rampant online and specifically in the SEO world. It didn't take me more than a few minutes to find a couple of plagiarized articles at Sphinn in the "what's new" section. The good news is that all the articles I checked that had made the front page did not appear to be plagiarized, so it appears the democratic voting process at Sphinn does work, and people can actually separate the wheat from the chaff. It would have been extremely disheartening had I seen any big-name SEO/SEM authors plagiarizing stuff.

Perhaps that's the lesson in all of this...if you really want to become a well-known and/or respected writer online, you will need to have original thoughts and be able to put them in writing. Plagiarized articles or blog posts will get you only so far; in the end, you're really only fooling yourself.

Jill
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Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Agency.

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 Danielle Keister said:
This article is very timely, Jill, and the sentiments long overdue in talking about.

I have had an industry article of mine plagiarized and repurposed by not only colleagues, but also well-known Internet marketing types. It's is beyond frustrating, especially when the intentions of my original article are then completely contradicted.

And besides my own experiences, we in my industry (I'm a Virtual Assistnat) know this is happening because in my forum we have discussed the ethics and what to do when clients ask us to scour the Internet mine, mine other peoples' work and then "adapt" the articles (read PLAGIARIZE) to come from them.

This is an intentional act that people are engaging in, no question about it. And I've booted members from my organization for engaging in it. It's an extra "special" slap in the face when you generously share your knowledge in order to help others achieve the same success and they turn around and want to "steal" your expertise as their own.
 Frank Herkimer said:
There is a local competitor that has engaged in this practice and I let it go till I read Jill's newsletter. Not just my catch phrase but also that of another local marketing agency.

This competitor won the business of a former client for design work. Please understand this is not about sour grapes over a client moving on. It's not. We had successfully ranked this client for target word phrases. 5 phrases on first page of Google. If a client wishes to move on, we thank them and wish them well.

In this case however, this company's redesign retained our work (as search engines see the site) and they immediately took credit for our SEO rankings when they had nothing to do with it.

This same company reworked their own site to copy some of our techniques for themselves. OK, we were flattered. But THEN - our catch phrase was introduced along with that of another local marketing agency. I still let it go.

Later on they added a "copyscape" link to warn against plagiarism while touting their Christian based ethics.

This company still only ranks locally while we rank for the shorter phrase and are quoting work nationally. Thank goodness - it's been a long road being the white hat guy.

Because of Jill's article I felt the need to rant - feeling better now. My advice to the plagiarist is to not steal from other locals. They see it first!
 Robert said:
While I agree that passing someone else's property off as your own is wrong. I might also point out that original thoughts are few and far between and often several people running the same tests might conclude the same results. Who has the right to post these first?

This is a very difficult issue to deal with. Blatant copies are one thing... but copying an idea now that's a very difficult thing to prove.
 Glen Johnson said:
If you want to find out if anyone on the web has copied your body text or html, go to.... www.copyscape.com and enter your url. The site will search the net and find anyone that has copied all or even a portion of your wording. The site can even scan through .pdf documents that someone may post. I don't think Google can do that.
 Andy Beard said:
I don't worry about it, people are allowed to copy my articles 100% if they want to and modify them, as long as there is attribution.
I have however noticed what could be looked on as the worst plagiarism, a hot story reproduced almost in its entirety, is more frequently the case on the larger blogs.
Frequently any attribution thay have given is a link not even designed to give traffic, at worst a "via" link at the bottom of the story.

A good example? In the middle of the Pagerank debacle last October my highest traffic day was 4000 visits, despite being the top of Techmeme and gaining over 400 unique links (not the junk reported by Yahoo).
Allow for the fact I had over 2000 subscribers at the time, and Techmeme sent 1000 visits, the 2000 visits from other sources is fairly insignificant.
The most surprising aspect was how little traffic many of the big blogs sent due to how much of the story they posted, and how little emphasis was placed on the attribution.

Rather than just grabbing a little limelight, they are also robbing 100s or 1000s of links.

Splogs are the least problem, newbies without original thoughts are a lesser issue. Larger blogs need to lead by example.
 Marty said:
Here here...thanks for raising this issue Jill. The concept of holding "close imitation" and "thoughts" that belong to someone else as protected is fundamental to protecting the rights of intellectual property owners.

Like so many other legal and ethical conundrums, it's sometimes hard to know the exact line. Raising awareness like this is a terrific place to start. I'm forwarding this post to each of the writers in aimClear's content practice. :) BTW, It was great to meet you finally in Toronto.
 Rosenstand said:
Hear - Hear!! In a small country like Denmark it is a problem too. The weblogs in the business are full of more or less copied content. And - not surprisingly - translations from mostly American blogs.

In our company we see copies of our content - 100% or less - every week. Frustrating like H.... Thanks for bringing up this issue!
 Tim Staines said:
There's really not much point in searching for copies of your own work, unless you are somehow trying to directly monetize it and feel that your value is being diminished. I agree that it would be ideal if no one ever copied or pseudo-copied anyone else's work, but it's just not something that's going to go away.
You have Google working on your behalf, to a certain extent, as long as your original version gets indexed before the plagiarisers, so content duplication almost like free promotion of your work in a way. And if you wantto make sure you're getting some value out of other people copying and pasting your content (because if they're too lazy to change the words, they're probably too lazy to notice this) try seeding your content with links to client sites and other places that will benefit you.
 Joy said:
I guess due to the accessibility of lots of information in the web..it will be a quite difficult to really track the real plagiarists.
 Ash Nallawalla said:
Good points, Jill. However, there can be shades of commentary that may seem to be plagiarism:

Authority - When Bill Slawski posts a gruesome dissection of a new Google patent, anyone who repeats it using similar words (and no attribution) is plagiarising.

Opinion - When Jill posts an article about plagiarism, several blogs will write a short comment in their own blog and point to the original article here. This is perfectly acceptable, normal behaviour.

Discovery - If someone (not well-known) posts that Google has started penalising left-handed bloggers, there will be hundreds of blog and forum posts, usually with no credit to the original discoverer. When an A-list personality picks up the news and writes a mind-blowing analysis that is Sphunn to buggery, the existing threads elsewhere pick up steam and plagiarism is lost in the noise.
 Ken Clark said:
Jill, Great post. Like many other bloggers / online authors, I look forward to online discussion and commentary on what I write, however it is very disappointing and frustrating when I seen the intentional plagiarism you discuss. We have an ongoing issue with one site in particular that copies the content Onward Search provides to Search Engine Journal word for word and then re-positions it as their own.

I concur with many of the people here, and those who have commented on this article on Sphinn, that the best way to "police" this behavior is ultimately by the online community promoting the authors and sites that are producing the original content to ensure the cream does rise to the top.
 Seduction Chronicles said:
To see your work elsewhere online, is a motivator hit also. Annoying to see your hard work getting replicated without effort, however, that's the world we live in. Just build that relationship and hope it sticks!
 Nick Stamoulis said:
As an owner, editor and writer of several blogs, I see this type of plagiarism almost on a daily basis. Sploggers or Spam blogs are not a new thing but have increased in volume and intensity over the past year. Many of these people think its okay to just copy content give credit to us as the author plaster the page with Adense ads or other affiliate ads.

I don't think that this type of behavior is okay at all. I work countless hours writing to try to write about topics that provide the highest amount of value to my readers, then to have a splogger simply take this and use it to make a buck gets under my skin.

Over time, I normally see these copied blog posts on other sites disappear and not apper in the SERPs...anyway that is my 2 cent rant :o)
 India said:
Thanks for raising this issue Jill.I guess due to the accessibility of lots of information in the web..
 paul said:
well you know what my website was copied by 3 other sites which was ok because google knew the content was mine.
 Henrik Bondtofte said:
Very good article on this subject, I think that most people are just lazy or want to take credit for other peoples work. I post a lot of news, so I of course do check out other news sources for information, I often check several different sources and add my own input.
 SEO Services Company said:
while talking about as SEO point of view, Plagiarism is not quite the same as copyright infringement. With copyright infringement, a person might take an entire article or other written work from someone and copy and paste it as is, claiming to be the author, or providing no author at all.
 Jill Whalen said:
ROFL like you just did with your comment which was copied from the original article above? I removed the link to your site to not out your idiocy.
 Was Seo said:
Although I agree with this excellent article, I am compelled to offer a little nuance.

According to the given definition of plagiarism "The unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.", one might argue that all copy on this web page lacking citation is suspect.
 Jill Whalen said:
Sorry, but that makes no sense whatsoever.
 Liz Hamilton said:
I see it all the time, I warn clients during trainings, so they know the rules. I think people that are not very experienced online figure they will never get caught, or don't realize it is wrong. , same applies for using other peoples photos.