Wordpress & Web Development

Reader, Beware Of Content Thieves: Why Pirates Steal Website Content

James Bruce 14-10-2012

stealing website contentPicture this: you sign into the admin page of your WordPress blog, and your dashboard shows 15 new incoming links – awesome, you think – until you look through each of the links to find they’ve actually just stolen and reprinted your content, word for word, and the only reason you found out is because they forgot to strip the link, which have caused it to automatically ping you. What the heck? You investigate more, and find they’ve pillaged their way through every post you’ve ever written, and even posted it alongside other stolen content. What’s going on, and how can they get away with this? Welcome to the world of stolen web content.


The scenario I just pictured isn’t even half the story – many blogs will automatically remove any links you’ve placed in the content, so you won’t even be be notified by a pingback to your blog. Even more will not only strip your links, but will rewrite your content too; replacing common words with synonyms – often with painfully difficult to read results.

Here’s an example of the above paragraph run through a freely available article “spinner”, as they are known in the business:

The particular situation is merely pictured is not also fifty percent the tale – several wesites will certainly automatically eliminate any kind of backlinks to your site you have put into this content, so that you won’t also become become notified with a pingback for your website. Even more won’t strip your own links, however may rewrite your articles also; changing frequent phrases along together using word and phrase replacements – usually having shateringly difficult to read final benefits.

That’s the same paragraph, rewritten to be fresh content. As you can see, it results in complete nonsense.

Why would they do that?

In the dark world of SEO, unique content is everything. Enter the “content farm”. As long as it contains the right keywords, and a bunch of vaguely related text around it, you could that page to rank for those keywords. Load the website up with Adsense (which will automatically show related ads), and the theory goes thus: a visitor sees your site in the results, and skims the excerpt text – it seems legit. As soon as they reach the site, they begin to read, realise it’s utter rubbish, and click the first link they can see to get them them out of there and on to something relevant – in this case, Adsense ads. Webmaster profits.

Happily, you now need quality as well as uniqueness; those “spun” paragraphs of verbal diarrhea just don’t cut it anymore, and the content farm has largely been rendered useless. That doesn’t stop them from trying though.


stealing website content

Combating the pirates

So, what can you do to protect your content?

1. Make good use of in-linking, and always link back to your original article. Turn a negative into a positive: assuming they copy your content verbatim and don’t strip the link (though some can and will do this automatically), the stolen content will actually be pointing back to your site and perhaps even give you a little SEO value from having so many links all over the place (I say perhaps, because it’s more likely these guys don’t have any SEO value to pass on). At the very least, any genuine reader who sees the copied article will have the chance to click back through to the originating site.

2. Don’t publish full text feeds. This ones makes me sad, but it’ a fairly foolproof solution. Content is stolen using automated plugins that simply read through RSS feeds periodically; so stripping your RSS feed down to excerpts only will mean they can only steal an excerpt and not the full article. Sadly, this also stands to upset your readers who do rely on the feeds to access your site content.


3. Sit there endlessly filing spam reports to Google. This is one particularly time consuming and life sucking tactic, but can be effective. Just fill in the form, tell Google the other site is a spam blog, and watch as they fall from whatever pathetic ranking they had achieved. Not sure what sites are stealing your content? Grab a few sentences from your post, and do an exact string match search on Google. We have quite a few people stealing our content, in fact, but most thankfully appear to be simple aggregators that do link back to the original source and only display an excerpt. Which brings me nicely onto my next point…

4. Do nothing; Google is probably already on the case. This kind of content copying has been especially prevalent over the last few years, but Google is making serious headway in being able to detect and de-rank those sites automatically. In my experience, it’s rare that these content thieves rank at all nowadays. You can help Google by making sure your content is always indexed first; you’ll need a site index submitted through Webmaster Tools to help this.

5. Install Chrome personal blocklist to use whenever you find spammy/rewritten content. Along with spam reports, it has been said that Google uses the Chrome personal blocklist plugin to detect bad / spammy web results; if enough people are marking a site as spammy or undesired (by choosing to block it from their personal search results), it’s seen as a good indicator that the page is either poor quality or spam.

6. Beware of “respected” content thieves. Not all content pirates lie in the dark disguised as .net exact match keyword domains; some are right there in the open, towering over your puny little blog with their big media power, every little titbit they publish outranking yours. The Huffington Post is one such example; a few years ago, their tactic was to pick out choice articles and copy the content verbatim, make a new headline, and link back. Admitedly they ask for permission nowadays, but the practice of reprinting your content remains the same; with ads pasted all over, that pay them and not you.


Even though they provide a source link, the truth is that very little traffic will ever be sent your way; you’ve simply given permission for them to make money off your content, perpetuating their leech-like existence. Unfortunately, most editors are usually ecstatic just to have a link there. I probably would be too – but that doesn’t change the nature of what they are doing.

That, dear readers, is why and how people steal web content, and what you can do to prevent it. Do you have a blog and have any experience with content thieves? Have you come across “splogs” like this is past, and did you report them? Or perhaps you’ve had your content stolen by a site bigger than yours?

Related topics: Copyright, SEO.

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  1. Lauren Monsey-Nagel
    February 21, 2013 at 5:31 am

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kade Musgita
    December 25, 2012 at 8:13 am

    I think, there is no way we can't 100% protect our content. Event we use disable text selecting or right click. Hope search engine can do something.

  3. Sundeep Sanil
    November 27, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Is there a syntax, which we can paste in html codes and inform Google, that our website contains real content?
    Something opposite of canonical tags???

    • Muo TechGuy
      November 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

      Obviously not, otherwise everyone would add them.

  4. sakthi
    November 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Hi James,
    What will happen if any one steals the content and publishes in a previous date that my post?

    Then will it look like I have stolen that content from that blog or..? I am confused in this. Can you elaborate in this?

    • Muo TechGuy
      November 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      Sorry, google hasn't really explained that bit. As long as you're indexed first, you should be okay.

  5. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    October 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I was so happy when my poems were finally published in a popular province-wide newspaper. Then I started to google the lines out of curiosity after I stumbled upon one blog post claiming it was the blogger's creation. Guess what? Since that newspaper also has an online version, a bunch of thieves had posted them (not just mine, apparently) into their websites, most of which claiming the works to be theirs. I did meet some decent people who asked me permission to post my poems, and they did it with proper credits. The first time I deal with online thieves...and it got on my nerve so much.

  6. Drew Butler
    October 16, 2012 at 12:44 am

    What a lame thing for people to do...

  7. Kulwinder Rouri
    October 15, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Very useful post, sir I want to know that does adding DMCA and Copyscape badges on our blogs helps and if our posts are indexed by Google after a few minutes publishing than does it means that our content is secure.

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 15, 2012 at 3:30 pm

      Adding badges makes no difference at all. And no I dont think simply being indexed first doesn't make it safe; it's entirely possible the other blog has more clout than yours, in which case they may be seen as the originator. This last bit is speculation though; only Google can answer that.

  8. Dimal Chandrasiri
    October 15, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Nice article... very informative too.

  9. Mac Witty
    October 15, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Didn't know Chrome personal blocklist also was used in that way - will try to use it more often

  10. Adrian Rea
    October 15, 2012 at 8:40 am

    An interesting article and yes there are many out for a free lunch. There are a couple of additional ways to help. You could post part of your text in an image so it looks like the page is seemless but not all would be copied so quickly. If you were trying to find sites with your content, you could add certain word strings that can be searched in google, or add in a special character that looks like a standard letter but is easy to reduce searching time like umlaut or these "Yoü cøuld explicítìlÿ µse...". Next you could put some text in, at the end of a paragraph, the same colour as your background, such as "This has been ripped from //www.makeuseof.com without the authors permission" where the reader will be unaware unless it is copied and place on a different coloured site. Than you can add links to other articles within your content which are more likely to bring people to your site when they click the link. The ideas here are to make readers of your content unaware of your additional safety measures within it. hope this helps, and don't for get you can then write a blog about the sites that rip content off, naming and shaming, and post their whois data too if you can

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      Interesting ideas, though some of them break web accessibility (text as images), and some may actually harm you by being seeing as dirty tactics by google (*hidden* keyword stuffing, for example). I'd also be hesitant to name and shame, since that may actually give more traffic to the thieves.

    • Kulwinder Rouri
      October 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      Nice suggestion, but adding hidden text in our blog is against SEO.

  11. susendeep dutta
    October 15, 2012 at 5:39 am

    Besides content stealing,I'd many times saw MUO questions being stolen by a single site which gets listed in 1st page of Google search result.I think you also had seen this.

  12. gpvprasad
    October 15, 2012 at 4:29 am

    That's why I blog in my local language important info to share.

  13. Zhong Jiang
    October 15, 2012 at 1:53 am

    So it's like PirateBay, except the differential effect of capturing words excerpt from other authors.

  14. Timothy Clark
    October 15, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Oohh... it's a pirates life for me! ha ha

    Good times, nice article.

  15. Walter
    October 14, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Thanks for a very interesting article.

    Regarding the RSS feeds, are you sure that your readers would be upset by receiving just excerpts instead of full articles? Personally, I always click through to the website to read the full article anyway and using excerpts would also save on bandwidth for all those articles that I don't want to read in full. Apart from that, most of the other feeds I subscribe to only provide excerpts so if MUO did the same it would be fine by me.

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 15, 2012 at 8:54 am

      I think the majority of people appreciate full feeds, though there are some who dont mind certainly.

  16. Onai
    October 14, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    I own a blog on blogger and there are at least 10 other blogs copying my posts verbatim. They, however, stopped on a particular date but they copied more than a thousand of my posts. Some of them have intext ads but others don't have any ads at all. I am just wondering, will my original write-ups be penalized by Google for duplicate content? I noticed that the photos I used are not anymore on the image results but one or two blogs that copied mine are still there. Jeez...

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 15, 2012 at 8:54 am

      If your site is known to be the original (like if Google indexed you first), then no content penalty should apply to you as the source. However, if it's a small blog that isnt isnt yet, its possible you'll be identified as a copier, not the original.

  17. Yiz Borol
    October 14, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    WOW! that's terrible.
    I wonder if there's anything else you can do...

  18. gianni
    October 14, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Why don'y you try a premium plugin wordpress cof copyright? It is Convert copy traffic...

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 15, 2012 at 8:53 am

      Because its a scam. Adding your link to an RSS does not require a premium plugin.

  19. William Smaling
    October 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Is there any method to circumvent them from stealing content? Or at least make them work harder for it?

  20. Obinna Egbule
    October 14, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Content stealing sucks.

  21. Usman Khurshid
    October 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    One possible solution where the pirates are actually ranking above the original content can be to use fat pings and using methods like pubsub etc.

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 15, 2012 at 8:51 am

      Care to elaborate?

  22. Edwin Williams
    October 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Very informative! Hopefully this will help sites prevent thieves from stealing their content!