I’ll admit it: I have an unhealthy obsession with checking my WordPress stats. OK, not as unhealthy as when I was a newbie, desperate to know I was reaching someone (anyone?). But I peek most days.
And that’s how I spotted an odd referrer to my site. I clicked it and at the other end was…. me. An exact replica of my site in every detail, but with a fake name and logo.
A web designer had scraped not just my website content, but my whole identity. It looked like I worked for them, or my alter ego did, anyway. My copyright, my testimonials, my insurance details, my ProCopywriters membership. All stolen.
I Googled the fake name to see if they’d indexed yet and found a second site almost the same. The only differences were these guys had swapped the fake name for my name in the web content and were asserting their copyright.
WTAF? I’m all about the words. The back end of my site and the technical details bring me out in a cold sweat. Where to begin?
This article covers the free, low-tech things I did to squish the stolen content. Plus a bunch of links to people far more expert than me.
But first, a detour via panic
Heart thumping, I shared with the collection of exceptional freelance human beings who carry me through my week. The marvellous Dave Smyth leapt to the rescue. Yes, it was theft, but it wasn’t a hack, and my site security wasn’t compromised.
If you’re in the market for a web designer, hire Dave. Don’t think. Just Dave. There are a lot of sharks and flakes in the website content business, so it’s a relief to be able to point clients to him. And it’s reason 1082 to have a network as a freelancer; I never have to flail alone.
On with the action points:
1) Send the website scraper a warning
Calmer, I Googled for help and turned up this cracking article from WebFX. I sent each website a short and sharp email, via their (actually, my, but no longer linked to me) contact form, notifying them that the content needed to be removed within 48 hours or I would report them to Google.
And that solved most of the problem for one of the websites. Three pages of my training and publications remained, but they largely swapped out my copy.
2) Contact their domain registrar
Now, I reached for WebFX’s WhoIs recommendation. Putting each domain name into DomainTools’ WhoIs Lookup, I found the email addresses for the registrar for each site and the individual who had registered the domain name. I pinged emails to all four parties.
Sadly and surprisingly, that got zero response from either the domain registrars or the websites themselves.
3) The big guns – reporting the copyright infringement to Google
My last free hope was the one that solved the problem. I reported both websites to Google, using their copyright infringement form.
The job is a bit of an arse as you have to list each stolen page and then each page on your own site that displays the original content. Not a small job if your whole website has been jacked.
But the results were worth it. Every page is now removed or rewritten.
One website still looks a lot like mine and has one badly-cobbled testimonial and some stolen meta descriptions. But it’s close enough.
It took a lot of time I could otherwise have been getting paid for, and it cost me some sleep, but I got all my scraped website content removed for free. Not everyone is that lucky, I know.
An interesting point a couple of people made was that they’d never have spotted the theft. It was only my WordPress geeking that made me suspicious. So, what else might help you spot when you’re being ripped off?
How to find stolen content
The first sign, ahead of the odd link in my dashboard, was a massive rise in visits from two countries over several consecutive days. Presumably, that was the website scraper at “work”, thieving content from me. Maybe I could have found them earlier if I’d known what to do?
A massive help was that all my pages are packed with links to my other pages. The website scraper inevitably missed one, and that opened the trail that led me to them.
Neil Patel recommends setting up Google Alerts to get automatic notifications of scraped content. Also, you could paste copy into Grammarly and hit the “plagiarism” check, or take a look at Copyscape.
Why it matters
Given the time it took, was it worth going after sites that weren’t outranking me? I could have just left them to it. But my name was still on bits of each site, and heaven forbid someone hired these people thinking they were getting me.
And it’s yet another reason why getting LinkedIn reviews and Google reviews and being active on social media is vital. My website is only one of the ways for potential customers to reach me. Clients can find me all over the place, not just somewhere I pay for.
If you’ve found this article because you’ve been ripped off, I’m sorry and good luck. I hope this, or one of the articles in here, help. If you’re intent on stealing from me, please put your time and energy into learning your craft instead.
Pixabay photo credit: Andrew Martin