Plagiarism: The Quickest Way to Kill Your Website

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When is casual writing okay?

Plagiarism is immoral and illegal. Most people know that. But did you know it can kill your website? Google might show the wrong page in its search results or might rank your site lower.

How Can Plagiarism Kill My Website?

Some people might think they can take a section or two from another site to support a point they’re trying to make. After all, they had the same thought and were going to say the exact same thing, but this site just explains it better. They think can use it on their site and they won’t get caught…right?

Wrong. While taking another person’s words or ideas without giving credit is illegal, it will also likely not work out very well for your website, even if you aren’t caught.

You Might Out Yourself by Stealing the Other Site’s Rel=Canonical Tags

When you steal content from another site, you also steal its rel=canonical tags (i.e., tags sites use to avoid duplicate content; they designate a specific URL the site wants Google to see), letting Google know that the other site, not yours, created the content.

Google will likely rank the creator of the content higher than a site that stole it, according to Jordan Kasteler, SEO Director of Hennessey Consulting.

What Happens If You Are Caught?

If the other site does find out that you stole its content, the creator could call you out on it, embarrassing you and lowering your credibility.

What About Content I Take from My Own Website?

It’s my own content, so I can do with it as I please, right?

Not necessarily. If you take content from your own site and reuse it, you could have problems with Google indexing the wrong page.

This means a different page than the one you intended will show up in search results, making your efforts pointless.

For example, say you run a personal injury law firm. You write two pages: a service area page (car accident lawyer in Boise, Idaho) and a blog post (what to do after a car accident). You optimize your service area page for the term “car accident lawyer in Boise, Idaho.” However, you took a portion of your “what to do after a car accident” blog and used it for your car accident service area page.

Google sees the same content on both pages. It gets confused and ranks your “car accident lawyer in Boise, Idaho” service area page for the term “what to do after a car accident.”  

How Can I Avoid Plagiarizing Content?

Now that we have a better idea of how plagiarism can affect your website, let’s discuss how to avoid it.

Don’t Consult Other Pages While You’re Writing

One of the easiest ways to accidentally plagiarize the language or organization of another site is to look at the other page while you write. If you are visiting other pages in the course of your research, don’t jump back and forth between those pages and your content. I recommend closing out the site entirely before you start working.

Consider taking notes earlier in the day and then consulting those notes when you write your page later. That way the other site won’t unintentionally influence your writing.

Use Plagiarism Checker Tools

Always, always, always run the content you write through a plagiarism checker. There are countless plagiarism checkers out there. Some are free; some aren’t. I recommend Copyscape or Grammarly (there is both a free and paid version).

Can You Present the Information Differently?

Presenting the information differently ensures you do not plagiarize the content and might even help you make your content better than another site’s.

For example, many personal injury lawyer practice area pages discuss the four elements of negligence. It’s easy to engage in accidental plagiarism when discussing these elements as most pages discuss them the same way.

But there are ways to avoid it.

Consider the following passages:

Example A:

To hold another party liable for an injury, we must establish the following four elements of negligence:

Duty of care: The at-fault party owed you a duty.

Breach of duty: The at-fault party breached its duty.

Causation: The at-fault party’s breach of duty caused your injury.

Damages: You suffered damages.

Example B:

A successful personal injury claim requires proving the following four elements:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of duty
  • Causation
  • Damages

These elements depend on how your injury occurred. For example, if you suffered an injury in a car accident, we would need to establish:

  • The other party had a duty to drive safely and keep you from undue harm.
  • He breached that duty by speeding, driving while distracted or intoxicated, tailgating, etc.
  • By speeding or tailgating you, the driver was unable to stop in time to avoid rear-ending you and causing you to suffer a knee injury.
  • Your knee injury lead to medical bills and three months off work.

You offer similar information, but by delivering the information differently (and giving a more full explanation of the four elements), you avoid writing in a similar manner to other sites out there.

Quote the Source

If you really like the way another site explained a concept, just quote it. For example, say I wanted to define plagiarism. In a previous blog post, I discussed what plagiarism is. Let’s pretend I write for a different site. If I wanted to use the definition on the post about plagiarism, I could write, “According to Jenna Kefauver, editor at We Do Web Content, plagiarism is ‘taking credit for someone else’s words, but it is also taking credit for that person’s ideas, style of writing, and sentence structure.’”

Voila. It’s that simple.

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