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Plagiarism: Are Content Shortcuts Sabotaging Your SEO?

Sherry Gray
Plagiarism: Are Content Shortcuts Sabotaging Your SEO?

Over the past few years, content has exploded on the web. Most businesses are struggling just to get in the race, much less keep up.

Unfortunately, the ever-growing demand for content doesn't always result in the original quality the search engines (and users) are searching for. If you take liberties with the words of other websites, you may sink your own SEO.

Here are some common issues you might have missed...and how to fix them.

Degrees of Plagiarism

No one really knows how much stolen copy is taking up space on the web. Plagiarism can be subtle and hard to detect unless you've read the original source and made note of the structure and the information. Copyright laws are widely misunderstood, and many writers think what they are doing is fine...when in fact it's not.

copyright myth 1


Rewriting content from another website — the laziest (and fastest) way to write without using a spinning software — is a common practice among anonymous writers who work for cheap. Kelly McBride from calls it patchwriting.

If your writers are good at rewriting, the work will pass a plagiarism checker and you may never know...but it may still be illegal or unethical.

Patchwriting also presents several SEO problems. Semantic search attempts to go deeper than words to deliver content with meaning and value — something available nowhere else on the web. When writers rehash posts, no value is added. Rand Fishkin explains the concept well in this Whiteboard Friday video.

How does Google handle content that is not unique? The oldest version displays to users. Everything else is relegated to a lower position or worse; that link at the end of the search that directs you to omitted results.


Another lazy way to write involves cutting and pasting small sections from various sites to form a semi-cohesive idea. I was a little shocked to find out this practice exists, but many editors have mentioned it. Many marketing companies have wised up and include a warning in the hiring process agreement that all work is original in nature and cannot contain more than some percentage of duplicate words.

Some duplication is natural and to be expected when a lot of writers are writing about the same subject. There are only so many ways to write highly specific phrases like “30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage.” Search engines don't penalize that. Multiple sentences or even paragraphs lifted from other websites is a different story.

Accidental Plagiarism

Professional writers have a pretty specific individual style (and most have a bad habit or two). They choose the same words, phrases and patterns. If they write in a specific niche, it is entirely possible to plagiarize your own work without realizing it. We writers are creatures of habit...and it's remarkably easy to forget what you wrote about 50 articles ago.

copyright myth 2

Is duplicate content plagiarism?

Duplicate content is common online, and only some of it will hurt your SEO. Some types of internal duplicate content, such as call-to-action paragraphs repeated on each page, merchandise that appears in different categories and pages meant to be printed, are common.

You may also beef up your content with syndicated industry news from other sites or interesting reblogs. According to Google, this is all well and good as long as it is handled carefully.

What isn't copacetic is content copied across multiple outdated black-hat tactic used to dominate the top of the search. That will get your site removed from the search engine results. Google is pretty clear on that point.

Plagiarism Goes Both Ways

While we've been talking about why you shouldn't plagiarize, but it's a two-way street. Not only can you negatively impact your own SEO efforts with a plagiarism penalty, someone can plagiarize your work and you can be penalized as a result. In the worst-case scenario, your entire website can be stolen.

That's right, thieves can rip you off and then outrank you for it. Or Google can decide you're the problem and remove you from the search results. Talk about adding insult to injury!

Keeping it Clean

It's not as difficult as you might imagine to avoid unwittingly plagiarizing another website and to monitor your own so your content isn't scraped and stolen.

Short checklist for original content:

  • Outline clear guidelines for your writers and editors.
  • Fact-check and verify all sources.
  • Make sure each piece of writing brings something new and fresh to the table.
  • Don't hire cheap writers. You really do get what you pay for.

Get the tools you need to monitor your content before and after it's posted:

  • Unplag - While there are a number of free plagiarism checkers on the web that scan your copy and do a cursory check against online copy, if your reputation is on the line, you might want to invest just a few bucks to get an online plagiarism checker with a lot of additional features. Not only will you get a comprehensive scan with more sensitive filtering, you'll be able to upload multiple documents in many different formats, not just cut-and-paste text.
  • Copysentry - One of the most popular plagiarism checkers online, Copyscape is a low cost cut-and-paste solution that delivers better results than any of the free tools I tried. Another of their products, Copysentry, monitors the web for content stolen from your website.
  • SEMrush Position Tracking - The position tracking tool compares your website to competitors on a local or global scale. By monitoring your keywords, you can make sure your competition is not ripping off your content. You can be sure your competitors are checking keywords rankings.
  • IFTTT - Use this handy “If This Then That” tool to create email alerts when your target keywords show up on other domains.

Finally, understand copyright laws. Dispel the myths, find out what your rights are and what constitutes plagiarism and learn what to do if your website is scraped.

Plagiarism on the web is not only illegal, it's bad business. You know what being at the top of the search page means. An SEO penalty for duplicate content can send your website (or your client's) to Google hell. Avoid it by making sure your web content is original and has a unique perspective. For the record, that also makes your content more exciting.

Idea thief credit: maxutov Shield clipart credit: RyanLerch All images created using

Sherry Gray

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, FL, currently suffering the burbs of Orlando. She’s a science geek, a social media junkie and a unapologetic fan of all things bacon. Connect with her on Twitter.
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will demuth

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How does the SE treat syndicated content like company press releases?
Juergen Kuhlmann

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What about citing sources? I am myself guilty to use content from wiki or other high authority sites. However, I name the source and out-link to it
Another thing I wonder.I have also a store site that is based on amazon products (Amazon Associate Site) The product descriptions are all over the internet how best to handle it? I mean they all link back to amazon for the actual purchase
Patrick Cherubini

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Perfect timing Sherry. I find lots of small contractors and service based businesses just copying and pasting onto their sites.
Васил Тошков

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I protect my content with this simple script:
Sherry Gray

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Васил Тошков
I've never seen that before. It GENIUS --at least at first glance. I'm saving it to explore further. Thanks so much!

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Useful Information..
If a new Website has been launched, then the content in it may get stolen and there are chances of getting penalized to our Website if others use the same content?? How to avoid this situation??

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Hemanth Malli
First of all you shour claim your authorship for the content on your site. It can be made by:
- Google's rel="author", rel="publisher"
- copyright terms
- to make sure that the content is indexed by Google on your site for the first time (I use social account reposts for that)
Or you can make a fast check by plagiarism detection engine like When you find a website that steal your content you can work with this information to protect yourself.
It's the way that most of big websites deal with plagiarism as I know.

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Thank you for important advice..
Hope it will helps in my work.
Sherry Gray

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Hemanth Malli
Hemanth, make sure your pages are optimized and can be indexed. Being the first to post content will help the serps recognize your site as the original source.

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Sherry Gray
Hi, I run a website called how can I do a plagiarism checker without any cost. Currently, have no significant budget for this and have only one writer to do all work

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Abhishek Kumar
Hi there, I run a website Park Colonial
I wish to find out a low coast on checking plagiarism too. I used to use copyscape but right now is pay version. Any idea where I can do this?

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