Letting People Steal your Content the Right Way

David Ebner
David Ebner

Stealing Content the Right Way_Image

In the fifth grade, I wrote an essay about a dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus Rex to be exact. It’s my earliest memory of writing. This was before there were computers readily available in the classroom, so it was all written by hand. The first draft was labored over for hours with the Encyclopedia Britannica volume “T” opened in front of me and a pencil lead smudged sheet of wide-ruled to my right. There was one simple instruction from the teacher:

“No copying, no cheating.”

There it was, clear and concise: copying equals cheating. We’d heard it before and have heard it since, but this was the era of the book report. Every time we read something in the encyclopedia, we just rephrased it in our heads and jabbed it onto the page. The simple act of reading and then writing created a simple filter in our minds. We had no choice but to change the content from its original rendition out of natural human error.

Either way, I was proud of the end product, and although I received a below average grade for my penmanship and there were 17 other young boys in the class that also chose the illustrious T-Rex for various report topics, I remember thinking that hard work really did pay off.

Fast-forward a couple decades to regular utilization of computers, the Internet and a truly bizarre obsession with the cronut and here I sit writing a blog about the top 10 reasons why the T-Rex would be the ultimate defense against the approaching zombie apocalypse.

I’m joking of course, but that’s what copywriters do, right? We write content that is search engine fodder or click bait. We analyze trends and implement strategies that will engage and convert readers into customers. We work hard at our craft and spend hours debating over specific word choice, voice and reception.

The Negative and Positive Approach

It should surprise no one that when I see my blog or editorial on another company’s website with another writer’s name in the byline that I get a little salty.

Some of the people that make up our marketing team had strong responses for this plagiarism. I heard everything from, “Get the editor of that website on the phone,” to “Send this over to legal for a cease and desist.”

The more I thought about what the eventual outcome would be through these efforts, the less I liked those options, so I started to map the consequences of someone stealing our content and it looked something like this:


Letting People Steal Your Content the Right Way




More People, Better Reach

071415_OutBrainBlog_Icons-01The hours we spend curating the content is a fraction of the time we spend blasting it out into the world. Whether we are repurposing it on social media or in print advertisements, our end goal is to get exposure. Someone nabbing our content opens up another earned channel, and possibly even a sales funnel.


It’s Free

071415_OutBrainBlog_Icons-04All that time we spend promoting our content is also very costly. Anytime we can win an earned lead it drives down our cost per acquisition, which saves us thousands of dollars over time. We didn’t pay a cent for the extra exposure, which will make you a hero in any marketing department.


A/B Test Your Content

071415_OutBrainBlog_Icons-06Ultimately, we are all fighting for the traffic, and it’s true that the overall pool doesn’t grow at the same rate that new marketers are jumping in are added to the mix. Having the coveted number one spot on the organic keyword search results is the end goal. With this in mind, having two competing pages with very similar content will give you direct insight as to what aesthetically works better as far as page design and layout. You won’t have in-page analytics to the site that ripped your content, but you will gain some base of comparison on how well you compare based on who populates higher in search results.

If it is your goal to be the best, to win the everyday battles and not simply churn and burn content for the sake of flooding the internet with keywords, then this information will help you grow as a writer and an online marketer.

You Have the Power

071415_OutBrainBlog_Icons-03If the content sampler does not want to play along, you always have the law in your back pocket, not in the 1920s gangster sense, but in the ethical sense. In the end, if they choose to not do things the way you like it, drop the hammer and bounce them by sending a cease and desist letter. This route stays open to you throughout the entire process.




We Spent Money on this Content

071415_OutBrainBlog_Icons-02This is a hard concept for people to get over: “We spent money on this content. We own it. It’s ours. We don’t want to share.” These are all valid points, but you certainly don’t have the same reaction when someone shares your content on Facebook. Why? Because that was your intention. While the theft of your content without your permission is not, doesn’t it have a similar effect? More people are now ingesting your message than before.

Our Feelings are Hurt

071415_OutBrainBlog_Icons-05Although the writer in me that respects the sacredness of the written word doesn’t like it much, the pragmatic marketer reigns supreme. Content marketing is not an emotional endeavor, or it shouldn’t be. Copywriters, although artists in their own right, need to be driven by metrics and data just as much as the SEO and SEM pros. A piece of art that doesn’t convert is worth as much as ice cream on the asphalt.

They Could Beat Us

071415_OutBrainBlog_Icons-07It’s true. Let’s say you allow your content to be reused and you lose; the website that ripped your content now populates higher than you in search results. There isn’t much you can do about this but to learn about makes them better than you. We learn far more from our failures than our successes, and we learn most when we are completely exposed, vulnerable and embarrassed. These are the moments we tell ourselves, “That’ll never happen again,” and we grow from it.

Plus, the algorithm is on your side. Google penalizes content that is not at least 20 percent unique from an existing webpage. If someone steals your content, and even if it sees better engagement and more traffic, (as of the current rendition of the search algorithm) Google will not rank them higher than you as long as the date stamp on your page is earlier. To beat you, they will need to rewrite the content in order to avoid the penalty. Then it’s simply the battle of the best writer.


Here is how it’s Done

“Hold open the purse, but don’t look away.”

The question I couldn’t wrestle from my mind was, “what does this look like?” In line with the spirit of the concept, we decided to borrow a design from someone else. There are already a good number of organizations that produce content for others to rip and repurpose. They are called news outlets. Specifically, we looked to Reuters and the Associated Press. We looked at their websites. We looked at their design and layout. We analyzed how we thought their users might engage in the content. We looked to ourselves and at how we engage with the content. Then, we copied it.

The Price of Admission

The Content Ticker is essentially a non-indexed page buried on our site. This allows us to be a gatekeeper of sorts. We know who steals our content. We simply look at the search results for our targeted keyword phrases and viola, their pages populate right next to ours.

So how do you know if anyone has picked up your content? We run our content through a plagiarism detector like Copyscape, and the spiders do the work for us. A few clicks down the rabbit hole, and we have the contact information for an editor or writer. A pleasant email that reiterates the following sentiments:

  • We enjoy your site.
  • We see that we provide a similar product.
  • Let’s collaborate to provide both of our readers the best product possible.
  • Here is a link to a page we update daily with content that we welcome for you to repurpose.
  • We only ask one thing: keep our backlinks, especially those to our website, intact.

In essence we are saying, “Ah ha! We caught you, but it’s okay. We want you to steal from us, just play nice.” The content thief has two choices, ignore you and potentially get one of those nasty cease and desist orders, or play along and get free content.

Most of these sites are designed around an advertising premise. They need views to show potential ad buyers the success of their site and sell space. The cheaper they can get content, the better for them. They are in the impression business, while we are in the conversion business. They are selling the stickers on an apple; we are selling the apple itself.

Check Back

The concept that we should let people steal our content is, at best, an experiment, and implementation is in its infancy. Our team is launching the Content Ticker at the beginning of August 2015. We will soon see if the project’s performance matches our good-willed nature. Check back in a few months for an obsessive amount of over-analyzed data concerning this project and how you can learn from our assured success or unlikely failure.

[This is a guest post from David Ebner, Content Manager for the Lung Institute, owned by Regenerative Medicine Solutions, a leading global provider of innovative regenerative technologies. If you're interested in guest blogging here please read our guest blogging guidelines.]

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David Ebner

David Ebner

David is the Content Strategist for the Lung Institute, a medical company that uses stem cell therapy to treat debilitating lung diseases. He is a graduate of the University of Tampa’s Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, and hates writing about himself in the third-person. David Ebner is super cool too.

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  • Avatar
    Charles| August 23, 2016 at 11:11AM


    I have a site in a very crowded space — a service-oriented business — and so I am not after ad impressions; I want conversions. Your strategy seems very crafty and good advice for people developing unique and high-value content.

    Let them use the content and get the link. I’m wondering, however, if there is a “duplicate content” penalty from SEO?

    In any case, good article. I see it was written last year, so I would be interested to learn how your experiment worked.

    Keep up the good work!