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Duplicate Content -- A True Story

Mark Jackson
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One of our clients recently began receiving nasty e-mails from people around the world accusing them of spamming. These people were, apparently, getting our client's home page served up as their Internet Explorer home page (no complaints from people using Firefox). The complaints were numerous enough that our client asked us to investigate.

We started our investigation by seeing if these people who were complaining were showing up in the log files or analytics for our client's Web site. Looking through the referrers, we noticed a new referrer coming to our client's site.

This referrer's Web site was very familiar. There was no question: this was a scraped copy of our client's Web site. With a little additional digging through the source code, we were able to determine that there was malware installed on the scraper site so that any visitor to the Web site would be affected and would now get our client's Web site -- on a different domain -- loading as their new home page.

Hackers stealing Web sites happens more often than you'd like to think. Not just the content -- the images, files, tags, everything.

This Web site (domain) actually had a PageRank of 5 (not that PageRank is everything -- it's not -- but it can be an indication of "authority" to the search engines), so they had enough authority that their Web site actually ranked for select keywords.

So, how do you protect yourself or otherwise deal with a situation like this?

Here are some steps to follow:

1. Copyright Your Work

You should register your copy with the Library of Congress. This will give you the rights that you will need, should you have to enter into a legal battle to rectify things. This should obviously be done prior to having a situation like this occur.

Get your ducks in order, cut a check for $45 and send it to:

Library of Congress Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, DC 20559-6000

Sara Bird at SEOmoz has written some terrific posts about copyrighting your work.

2. Find Out if Someone is Copying Your Work

Copyscape is a quick way to check for folks using your Web copy. Simply plug in your URL and search. They also offer premium (paid) services for searching specific copy snippets or automatically detecting issues.

There are a number of other ways to find people who may be stealing your content. Lorelle VanFossen has outlined a number of methods that you can use to find out if others are using your Web copy. Many of these are simple to do (such as copying your copy into a search engine and search for it).

3. Once You've Found an Offender

Report that bastard.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives you the protection you need to pursue legal recourse against those who steal your content.

Be sure to let the site's Web hosting company and the search engines know of the offender. There are some interesting discussions on this topic over at WebmasterWorld. Also, here's some good information for filing with Google.

The Web host probably doesn't want any part in the site's actions, so if you're able to show your copyright, point to your Web site, and show them the offender's copy of your Web site, they should be very motivated to remove the offender's copy of your Web site. The easiest way to get hosting information is to use a WhoIs locator.

There are many forms of duplicate content, so to get additional information on this, check out my column on duplicate content. Also, you should consider attending Search Engine Strategies in San Jose on August 20, where I'll discuss duplicate content and multiple site issues with Geoff Karcher, owner and president of The Karcher Group, Mikkel deMib Svendsen, creative director for deMib.com, and Benu Aggarwal, founder and president of Milestone Internet Marketing.


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