SEO Plagiarism: How to Find and Prevent Copycat Content

Matt McGregor

Oct 13, 202315 min read
SEO Plagiarism: Are Content Shortcuts to Blame?

TABLE OF CONTENTS

In this guide, we’ll teach you how to detect and deal with SEO plagiarism. 

We’ll also introduce the best plagiarism checker tools on the market. And give you tips on how to prevent plagiarism in your content.

What Is SEO Plagiarism?

SEO plagiarism is the act of copying content from other sources—without proper attribution or permission—as part of an effort to rank higher in search engines. Plagiarized content can include text, videos, images, and data.

For example, let’s say someone directly copied paragraphs from your highly ranked blog post in order to compete for the same keywords. This could be considered SEO plagiarism.

SEO plagiarism can result in reputational damage, problems with search engines, and even legal action. These consequences can occur even if the work was plagiarized by accident.

You can use SEO plagiarism tools to check your own content. And find out whether others have plagiarized your work.

Types of SEO Plagiarism

There are four main types of SEO plagiarism:

  1. Copying and pasting content. This is when someone directly copies and pastes content someone else created and owns onto their website. Without asking permission or giving appropriate credit. This is the most straightforward form of plagiarism. And the one that is easiest to find.
  2. Content spinning. This is when someone rewrites third-party content—either manually or using software—to make it appear original. This is usually done to create large volumes of content in a short period of time.
  3. Generative AI writing. Not all AI writing is plagiarism. But even the most advanced AI tools can plagiarize existing web content. This is more likely when AI tools are instructed to model their writing on existing web content.
  4. Self-plagiarism. This is when you duplicate your own content across multiple domains. This can still cause SEO problems, despite the fact that it’s your content.

What Isn’t SEO Plagiarism?

It isn’t SEO plagiarism when you: 

  • Read and analyze high-ranking content when writing. It can be useful to look at competing content, including doing topical research and conducting SERP analyses. This will give you insight into what Google thinks people are searching for, otherwise known as search intent. But be careful not to plagiarize anything, even accidentally.
  • Use generative AI tools. While AI tools have the potential to produce plagiarized content, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. We recommend running any AI-generated content through one of the SEO plagiarism tools discussed below.
  • Duplicate content on a single domain. Posting identical or near-identical content in several places on a single domain is not SEO plagiarism. But be aware that this type of duplicate content is generally not a good idea for SEO.

No, not all forms of SEO plagiarism are copyright infringement.

SEO plagiarism is a much broader offense than copyright infringement. And acts that wouldn’t meet the legal definition of copyright infringement are still plagiarism. 

Content spinning, for example, may not always infringe copyright. But it is certainly SEO plagiarism. 

Further reading: Learn more about the most common legal aspects of blogging and content marketing.

Does Plagiarism Affect SEO?

Yes, plagiarism negatively affects SEO. Plagiarism can lead to lower search rankings in engines, reputational damage, and lower content quality.

Search Engine Penalties

If a search engine believes you are plagiarizing content in a way that violates its policies, it can penalize your website by lowering your search rankings or removing your website from its index altogether. 

For Google, some forms of plagiarism may be a violation of the “Scraped Content” section of its spam policies. As the policy states:

Scraped content, even from high quality sources, without additional useful services or content provided by your site may not provide added value to users. It may also constitute copyright infringement.

If Google believes you have violated its policies, it can issue penalties in the form of manual actions. You can see if your site has a manual action issued against it, along with a description of each issue, in Google Search Console (GSC)

Navigating to Manual Actions report in GSC

To get Google to undo any penalties incurred with manual actions, you can request a review in your GSC Manual Actions report. You’ll need to describe and document all the steps you’ve taken to fix the issue. For SEO plagiarism, this might include rewriting sections of offending content. 

Reduced Content Quality

Plagiarized content does not offer unique value to users. That means Google has no incentive to add it to its index or rank it in search results. 

Plus, plagiarized content is generally not as effective at generating engagement and conversions as original content.

Because quality content is highly tailored to your target audience and brand identitynot someone else’s.

SEO Plagiarism Tools

The easiest way to detect SEO plagiarism is to use software.

There are many SEO plagiarism checkers on the market. Some are standalone tools, while others are built into the tools you can use to write and edit your content.

Let’s dive into our list. 

Semrush SEO Writing Assistant

Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant helps you to write and optimize SEO content. It also has a plagiarism detection tool built in. 

To get started, enter your keywords and target audience. Then, click “Get recommendations.”

"Get recommendations" button highlighted in SEO Writing Assistant editor

Type, paste, or import your content into the editor.

The tool will provide readability, SEO, originality, and tone of voice suggestions.

SEO Writing Assistant editor with readability, SEO, originality, and tone of voice suggestions on the right

To check for SEO plagiarism, open the “Originality” section in the sidebar. And click “Check.”

The tool will let you know what percentage of text is original. And show the source of any duplicated text.

Click “Rephrase” to open the rephraser tool and adjust your wording.

“Originality” section shows SEO plagiarism issues

Click “Rephrase” to generate new wording using AI.

You can also use AI to simplify, expand, or summarize sections of text.

SEO Writing Assistant's Rephraser

What We Like

  • You can check for plagiarism in the same place as where you optimize and edit your content
  • The tool makes it easy to rephrase content that may appear plagiarized with its AI-powered Smart Writer
  • SEO Writing Assistant has plugins for Google Docs, MS Word, and WordPress

Pricing

You can access basic features of the SEO Writing Assistant with a free Semrush plan. 

The Pro subscription includes two SEO recommendations reports. For each of these reports, you can run three plagiarism checks. 

To conduct additional plagiarism checks, you’ll need a Guru or Business subscription. All paid subscriptions also give you access to a variety of other digital marketing tools. Check out our pricing page to learn more.

  • Pro ($129.95 per month; $108.33 per month when paid annually)
  • Guru ($249.95 per month; $208.33 per month when paid annually)
  • Business ($499.95 per month; $416.66 per month when paid annually)

Plagiarism Checker

Plagiarism Checker is a free app that helps you check existing content for plagiarism. It also includes an AI-content detector and grammar checker.

To get started, click “Get for free” in the Semrush App Center.

Plagiarism Checker page

Then, paste your content into the text box and click “Check.” You can add between 50 and 6,000 words.

Plagiarism Checker's "Check text" page

Plagiarism Checker will give you a full report on your copy. 

Plagiarism Checker report

If there is plagiarism in your content, the tool will list the top sources your content has potentially been plagiarized from. 

"Top sources" section in Plagiarism Checker

What We Like

  • Plagiarism Checker includes an AI-content detector
  • The tool generates reports that you can understand at a glance

Pricing

Plagiarism Checker is free with your Semrush account.

AI Writing Assistant

AI Writing Assistant is a generative AI tool that produces a range of content types, including blog posts, social media posts, and images.

To get started, click “Get for free” in the Semrush App Center.

AI Writing Assistant page

Next, click “All Tools.”

“All Tools” selected in the menu

For this example, we’re going to select “Article Generator.”

“Article Generator” option chosen under "All Tools" tab

Next, complete the prompts for your AI-generated content and click “Generate.”

"Generate Articles With AI" window

After your content has been generated, you can make edits directly in the app. When you’re happy with your content, click “Check Plagiarism” to see if your content resembles other published content on the web.

AI Writing Assistant editor with "Check Plagiarism” button highlighted

The app will provide a plagiarism rating. If your content isn’t plagiarized, you will see a green check mark. 

A green check mark means your content isn’t plagiarized

What We Like

  • AI Writing Assistant is an all-in-one tool for AI-generated content. You can produce the content you need and check plagiarism without having to paste content from one tool to another
  • The tool supports over 25 languages and 75 different content types

Note: All AI-generated content should be edited and fact-checked by a human. 

Pricing

AI Writing Assistant is $25 per month for unlimited words, with plagiarism detection offered for all generated words. You get 1,500 words for free when you first start using the tool.

Grammarly

Grammarly is a widely used app for checking grammar and spelling. It also contains a simple-to-use plagiarism tool.

Grammarly’s SEO plagiarism checker compares content to webpages and documents stored in ProQuest, a massive international database of books, academic research, and media content. 

To check for SEO plagiarism with Grammarly, paste your content into a Grammarly document and click “Plagiarism” in the lower right corner. 

Grammarly document with “Plagiarism” button highlighted

Grammarly then tells you what percentage of your content is potentially plagiarized. It highlights the offending sections and points to the source.

Grammarly’s SEO plagiarism checker

What We Like

  • Grammarly’s plagiarism detector draws from academic texts, making it especially useful for students and teachers
  • The tool makes it clear which sections need to change for a document to be entirely original

Pricing

Grammarly’s plagiarism detector is only available on paid plans, with prices starting at $12 per month.

Copyleaks

Copyleaks is an established SEO plagiarism detection tool that supports multiple file formats and languages.

Copyleaks also offers a specialized AI-content detection service, as well as an “AI grader” tool aimed specifically at education use cases. This allows educators to import student writing, such as essays and exams, and check them for plagiarism in bulk.

To use Copyleaks to check for SEO plagiarism, import your content to their tool. You have a range of options, including importing a file, pasting the text, or entering a URL.

Content importing options in Copyleaks

After checking your content, the tool will provide a “Similarity Score” alongside a breakdown of sources and similar texts. You can then export the report or share it with colleagues.

Copyleaks's Plagiarism Report

What We Like

  • Copyleaks offers a range of options for importing content, including source code
  • Copyleaks works across multiple languages, so you can find plagiarized content in languages other than English
  • Copyleaks offers an API to check for plagiarism

Pricing

Copyleaks’s pricing is metered, so the more content you check, the more you’ll pay. When paid annually, Copyleaks costs $9.16 per month for 1,200 pages, with a page equating to a maximum of 250 words. 

Quetext

Quetext is a specialist plagiarism detection tool that has helped millions of users.

To get started, simply paste in text you wish to check and click “Check for Plagiarism

Plagiarism Checker by Quetext

The tool will give you an originality score and highlight all the text that it suspects is plagiarized. 

If you click on a highlighted section, it will show you similar content from elsewhere on the web. This allows you to easily compare the two sections and make a judgment for yourself. 

Quetext results

What We Like

  • You can upload a range of document formats for plagiarism detection, including Microsoft Word and PDF
  • It can detect plagiarism in a range of languages—though these are mostly European
  • Quetext allows you to add a citation into content it suspects of being plagiarized

Pricing

With Quetext, you can check up to 500 words for free. Its paid plans include up to 100,000 words per user, per month, with its Premium plan starting at $8.25 per user, per month. 

Copyscape

Founded in 2004, Copyscape is one of the oldest plagiarism detection tools. While it lacks a flashy website, it’s a solid tool with a strong reputation for accuracy. 

To get started, you first need to create an account with Copyscape and purchase credits. Then, paste in your text or URL, or upload your document, and click “Premium Search.”

Copyscape's Premium Search

The tool then gives you a list of websites that have similar content. 

After clicking on one of these websites, you will see an embedded version of the webpage, with potentially plagiarized text highlighted in red.

Copyscape's results

If you discover that someone has stolen your content, there are a range of actions you can take. We cover these under “Dealing with Stolen Content,” below.

What We Like

  • If you are concerned that other people are copying your work, Copyscape is a great place to find out the truth
  • Copyscape’s pricing is very clear and transparent

Pricing

Copyscape offers metered pricing for its plagiarism detection tool, starting at 3 cents for 200 words, with an 1 cent per additional 100 words. 

It also offers a free comparison tool that allows you to see similarities between two documents.

How to Detect SEO Plagiarism Manually

It’s difficult—but not impossible—to manually detect SEO plagiarism. If you wish to attempt to check for SEO plagiarism without using tools, you’ll need to be a careful reader and a patient researcher.

Here are some techniques you can apply:

  • Read carefully. Plagiarized content is often inconsistent in its grammar, syntax, and word choices. If you read content closely before publishing, you should be able to see if content has been copied from another source.
  • Google suspicious sections. Sometimes, catching copied content is only a web search away. Use quotes to search for an exact phrase (for example, “Our analysis unearthed a curiously positive trend”).
  • Cross-reference high-ranking pages. A Google search won’t pick up content-spinning plagiarism. But if you’re still not sure if your content contains plagiarized sections, read other high-ranking pages carefully.

Preventing SEO Plagiarism: Best Practices to Consider

To prevent SEO plagiarism—and the consequences that can occur—you need to build originality into your content creation process. Here are some tips on how to do that.

Cite Your Sources

It’s far too easy to unintentionally borrow ideas and concepts and copy wording from other sources without acknowledgement. To help avoid this trap, you should require everyone who writes for your business to cite their sources. 

Advise your writers to take detailed notes during the research process. And be sure to check every quote and statistic for a citation before publication.

Use AI Tools Carefully

One of the biggest risks for accidental SEO plagiarism in your content today is generative AI. 

AI copywriting tools can provide large amounts of content in an instant and make the research and editorial process more efficient. But remember: AI tools are trained on public websites. 

As a result, the content they produce can trigger plagiarism detection tools. If you have incorporated AI into your content creation workflow, take extra care before you publish. 

One way to avoid these risks is to use AI copywriting tools with built-in SEO plagiarism checkers. Like Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant and the AI Writing Assistant.

Vet Your Writers

If you’re working with freelance writers, make sure you do a thorough check of their work history first. Established freelance writers are much less likely to risk their reputation—and, potentially, their careers—by plagiarizing content. 

If you are working with new writers who have less work history, pay special attention to their first few pieces.

And, make sure to share content writing best practices and brand writing style guidelines with them.

We’ve covered preventing SEO plagiarism in your own work. In the section, we’ll run through your options if someone plagiarizes your content.

Dealing with Stolen Content

If you have found that someone has stolen your content, you should do your best to get them to take it down. This is because search engines can sometimes rank plagiarized content above original content.

This is especially the case if Google considers the plagiarizing website to be of higher quality than your own. 

As Google’s John Mueller says:

From my point of view, it [plagiarized content] is something that we can determine to a large extent. But even if we know which one is the original and which one is the copy, sometimes it makes sense to show a copy in the search results.

To deal with stolen content, you have a range of options. We’ve listed them below, starting with the simplest. 

Contact the Publisher

The first thing to do to quickly remove stolen contact is to send a polite email to the publisher. The publisher may then remove the potentially plagiarized content.

This resolves the issue and means you don’t spend time making formal requests.

You can usually find contact information for a website in the “Copyright” or “Legal” sections of their website. 

Most websites are sensitive to potential copyright infringement due to potential monetary damages, so you should receive a response within two or three business days. If you can, be patient with smaller websites before you escalate, as they may not have processes in place to deal with requests.

Contact Google

If contacting the publisher doesn’t work, you can submit a formal request through Google.

The Report Content on Google tool is a simple form for reporting content that violates the law or Google’s terms and conditions.

If Google finds the content to be illegal, it will remove it in those countries where it is illegal. If it violates Google’s terms and conditions, the content will be removed from the index globally. 

File a DMCA Notice

For some forms of plagiarism, you can take legal action in the United States under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The DMCA allows copyright owners to ask that plagiarized material is taken down from a website. You can file a DMCA takedown notice with the website’s web hosting company or a search engine. 

If you submit a DMCA request to Google, it will post this request publicly in its Transparency Report.

How to File a DMCA Notice

Before you file your DMCA notice, remember that you are required to swear to the facts. If you are found to be lying, you could face legal issues yourself.

If you have found plagiarized content and wish to file a DMCA notice, you can follow the steps below.

Note: This is not legal advice. We recommend consulting a legal professional before issuing a DMCA notice or pursuing legal action of any kind. 

  1. Take a screenshot of the plagiarized content. Before you can submit your DMCA notice, you need to have proof of your claim. This should include both the infringing and source URLs.
  2. Prepare your DMCA notice. This is the formal notice requesting that the service provider or search engine removes the plagiarized content.
    The DMCA notice needs to include:
    1. Your contact information, including address, email, and phone number
    2. Identification of the work being infringed
    3. A statement indicating that you have a good faith belief that the use is unauthorized and violates your copyright
    4. A statement that you are the copyright owner or an authorized representative and that the information in the notice is accurate
    5. Your signature—electronic is fine

Georgetown University has published a DMCA takedown notice template you can use. 

  1. Send your notice. You’ll need to send your notice to the online platform's DMCA agent. This information should be available in the website’s copyright or legal sections.
  2. Review their response. If your DMCA notice is valid, the website will usually take down the infringing content. However, they may submit a counter-notification, which states that they do not believe your notice is valid. 

If you receive a counter-notification, the next step is to either drop your complaint or consider taking further legal action. The DMCA gives you 14 days to file a copyright infringement suit.

If you have submitted a DMCA notice and the plagiarized material is still on the web with no counter-notice, the infringing party may lose safe harbor from copyright infringement liability. This means you may have the option of taking legal action. 

The DMCA says service providers must act “expeditiously,” though we recommend contacting a legal professional to figure out the options for your particular case. 

In addition to the DMCA, there may be other legal options available to you, such as filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement. These options are sometimes expensive, and your options will depend on where you reside, where the content was published, and the resources you have. 

Again, we recommend consulting a legal professional to understand your rights and determine the best course of action.

Build Originality Into Your SEO Content

Creating quality content is about so much more than avoiding SEO plagiarism.

To learn more, check out the following resources:

And don’t miss Semrush’s Content Marketing Platform. Its tools can help you check for SEO plagiarism, find trending topics, create content briefs, and much more.

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Matt is an experienced marketing leader, with a deep background in SEO and content marketing for B2B SaaS. He is currently Head of Marketing for carbon accounting startup CarbonTrail.
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