The Effects Of Web Content Plagiarism On SEO. Semalt Expert Explains Why You Need To Avoid Website Plagiarism At All Costs
No one likes a thief.
Content creators have always fought a battle with content copiers, who are considered at best lazy or incompetent, and at worst leeches who make easy money off the hard work of others. Whether we're talking fake Renaissance paintings, illegally printed books or repurposed guitar riffs, the stains of plagiarism can be difficult for the alleged offender to wash off.
This fact has become even more relevant in the digital age, when checking for copycat material can be done in a few simple clicks.
And so we come to the matter of search engine rankings. There are an endless array of factors that decide where you rank on Google, Yahoo!, Bing and others, and ticking every box is key in coming out on top. But one factor - one unticked box - has the ability to cancel out all the other good search engine optimisation (SEO) work you might be doing.
Is your website free of plagiarism?
What is web content plagiarism?
Web content plagiarism is when any content - most commonly text, but imagery, video, sound and other media too - is taken from one site and used on another without consent.
Web content plagiarism is a growing scourge, pushed forward by search engines that want a website to offer up helpful, high quality information. But an often overlooked SEO requirement is that search engines want this content to be unique - simply copying and pasting a bunch of text from another website will do far more harm than good to your SEO efforts.
Plagiarism comes in a range of different forms, and is conducted to varying degrees of intensity. Examples include:
Cut and paste
The laziest and most harmful form of plagiarism, cutting text from one website and repasting it on another is a recipe for disaster. Even being a little more strategic with cut and paste plagiarism - only cutting small paragraphs and sentences and pasting them together into a somewhat cohesive idea - will most likely damage your SEO efforts (more on that later.)
Perhaps the most insidious form of plagiarism, patchwriting is a concerted effort to copy content. It is where a writer - generally those that are hired on the cheap - copies entire sections of text from one website and rewords it for another. Finding inspiration online is fine, but rehashing that inspiration and calling it your own is not.
Sometimes what looks like plagiarism is unintentional, and certain writers can appear to plagiarise themselves! The truth is that all writers have their own voice and their own habits, and will inevitably repeat a phrase or sentence in their writing from time to time. When you're writing full time it can be difficult, if not impossible, to remember what you wrote last week, last month or last year. While not ideal, this form of plagiarism isn't something that you need to worry too much about.
Likewise, certain duplicate content on a website is almost inevitable - using the same call to action over multiple pages or making product descriptions uniform, for example. Like accidental self-plagiarism, these cases shouldn't be too harmful to your SEO efforts provided they don't pop up an abnormal amount across your site.
What are the consequences of plagiarism?
Now we know what web content plagiarism looks like. But what are its actual effects on SEO?
There are a number of ways that plagiarism can negatively affect your search engine ranking, most of which come back to the Google acronym E-A-T.
The importance of E-A-T
Whenever a user types in a search query, Google (or any search engine) wants to offer up the most valuable and highest quality search results possible. This fact is encapsulated by the acronym 'E-A-T', which stands for expertise, authority and trust. As we discussed in [this article], demonstrating E-A-T, both through delivering quality content and linking to your authors' professional credentials, helps to ensure that Google will see your site as a valuable result.
Plagiarism, meanwhile, has the exact opposite effect.
Paraphrasing the paraphrased
The most common form of plagiarism, patchwriting, can see an original document being rewritten, then that rewritten document being rewritten again, and so on and so forth. Like a game of Chinese whispers or telephone, after a few iterations you can end up with a piece of writing that is nothing like the original - facts are altered, data corrupted and conclusions made hazy. Offering up incorrect or misleading information is a blow to your Google E-A-T and subsequently your site ranking.
This underlines the value of doing thorough research, and ideally employing a professional to write your content.
A reduction in backlinks
If Google detects plagiarism, the reputation of your website seriously deteriorates. Not wanting to get dragged down with you, other websites may begin to remove any backlinks they've directed your way in order to save their own reputations. As backlinks are an important ingredient in SEO, this will further compound your website's issues.
The worst-case scenario for plagiarism is being de-indexed. This is when Google deems your activity to be so corrupt that they take your site out of their search results entirely. This means that you will never appear as a result on the search engine, no matter what a user might type in.
A case of mistaken identity
Unfortunately the consequences of plagiarism sometimes aren't limited to the plagiariser. It's up to Google to not only identify cases of plagiarism, but to also identify the original, legitimate source. While the algorithm is getting better at this, using timestamps and other more clever strategies to uncover the truth, sometimes it gets it wrong. This can see you, the website that did everything by the book, being punished for the misdeeds of a website that shamelessly stole from you.
This represents yet another reason not to plagiarise - you could end up hurting people and businesses that have taken the most honest and lawful approach possible. Unfortunately innocent souls are often caught in the crossfire.
Can the effects of plagiarism be reversed?
Let's say that Google has identified certain content on your website as having been plagiarised. It doesn't particularly matter whether it was intentional or accidental, you just don't want it to negatively affect your search engine ranking going forward.
The good news is there's a simple fix. Either take the offending content down or edit it so it's unique. Provided the material is dealt with there will be no long-term punishments for plagiarism, although building up your E-A-T does take time, and you will be starting from the bottom.
The next question then is how to identify and avoid plagiarism in the first place.
How can you avoid web content plagiarism?
The first step to avoiding web content plagiarism is to know how to identify it. While the only sign of plagiarism that Google will give you is a fall in your search engine rankings, there are a wealth of tools that can analyse your site and highlight any areas of concern.
- Copyscape: One of the first plagiarism checkers, and still one of the best. The freemium model allows you to check content without spending a cent, although we'd recommend upgrading to the full service which includes Copysentry, a tool that alerts you when your content is used elsewhere on the web.
- Unicheck: As the name suggests this tool was originally designed for the education sector. Unicheck has since become a leading tool for businesses too, using AI to scour the web not just for identical content, but for patchwritten copy too.
- Grammarly: The popular writing tool also has an AI-powered plagiarism checking function, which is proving to be incredibly effective in finding the more insidious copycats.
If these tools highlight potentially plagiarised material on your website, you should edit or remove it straight away. If a tool like Copysentry tells you that another site may be plagiarising your content, it's a simple matter of reporting the page or pages using the Google spam report form.
To ensure that you don't face any plagiarism issues into the future, it's important to use a quality website developer, content creator or SEO specialist. The cheapest option is never the best; you have to remember that a content professional can only really be the cheapest if they're taking shortcuts, either through patchwriting or simple copy-pasting.
Using established professionals also ensures that your website builds up that all important E-A-T, helping you to rise through the Google rankings.
How Semalt can help
With a decade of high-level SEO experience, at Semalt we have a proven track record of getting websites to the top of Google. Anti-plagiarism strategies form a key part of our approach - we understand that there's no substitute for quality content, particularly if you want to get to the top spot on Google, and we also know that plagiarism can sometimes be entirely accidental. If you have a problem you simply want it fixed.
FullSEO is a package that has been crafted for those who appreciate the importance of search engine optimisation. Our team will do a complete analysis of your website, including a comprehensive plagiarism check. A personal SEO manager will then advise you on any anomalies, and offer fast and effective solutions. For those who do find that elements within their website could be plagiarised, you can be confident that the offending material will be dealt with, allowing you to begin your march back up the SERP.
All going well, your quality content, as part of a full complement of SEO strategies, will see you rising all the way to number one.