Let's Talk About Your Copy


POSTED ON SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2010 AT 2:25 PM

In the web design business, the word "copy" is usually used synonymously with the word "content" (that's the textual portion of your website which people actually read). But in this article, we're not talking about content. We're talking about "copy" in the literal sense of the word. As in copying the content from someone else's website.

Earlier this year, we got in front of our computers on what we thought would be a typical Monday morning — performing our usual daily "routine". Checking the statistics for our website, the keyword phrases people use when searching for our services, the number of hits and all the other goodies which webmasters like to keep an eye on. And on this particular rainy Vancouver morning, we decided to take a good look at our inbound links which we hadn't done in a few weeks because we were so busy working on another large web design project at the time. Something really strange happened (come to think of it, it even began to snow outside — unusual for Vancouver). We noticed that four web design companies were suddenly linking to our website. Now why on earth would four other web design companies be linking to our web design company?

One by one, we hesitantly clicked on the inbound links in question and our jaws dropped lower and lower with each click. There they were — right in front of us. From one company right here in North Vancouver all the way down south and around the bend to a fourth company in Florida. The copy — oops, the content — on our old search engine optimization page, design process page and three quarters of our old web design packages page had been copied word for word and placed on four other websites along with all of our graphics right down to the last grey border around each one. The content was so blatantly copied that the links to www.mwconsulting.ca were still left in place. Clicking on any of the links within the copied content on these four websites actually led back to our own website. Unbelievable.

What do you do in a case like this? One by one, we had to send e-mail messages and make phone calls to each web design company (long distance at our expense for three of them), asking them to remove our content and graphics. A time-consuming process considering how much valuable time of ours was actually wasted on something that never should have happened in the first place. Doing this as diplomatically as possible (holding back the urge to scream at the top of our lungs), one by one, each company eventually did comply with our request and after a bit of time passed, our copied content and graphics disappeared. Well, almost. After checking back in with a few of our new and unexpected acquaintances today, we noticed that bits and pieces of our content are back but there isn't a "hack" of a lot we can do about it now. I guess you can call it flattering in some ways but on the previous version of our website, we ended up having to place a "watermark" — www.mwconsulting.ca — across every one of our larger, feature graphics and it looked none too pretty.

What many people simply fail to understand (aside from the fact that copying content and graphics without permission is illegal) is the fact that unfortunately, search engine companies can "penalize" you for having duplicate content on the Internet (whether it's your own fault or someone else's) and this can seriously affect your search engine positioning. This whole situation created an entirely new set of problems for us which we still appear to be recovering from — even to this very day. We've known about the duplicate content penalization issue for many years but we did learn something new and very interesting from this experience. Three out of four of the companies we spoke with had absolutely no idea of how this could have possibly happened.

Of course, at first, we thought this was just a "line" but then it hit us like a ton of lead. We began to realize that this was, in fact, the truth. The reason? It's because so much web design work gets farmed out to other people these days. When you talk to a web design company, the person you're talking to may not necessarily be the person who is actually going to design your website for you. The person you're talking to may actually take your project and "farm it out" to a freelance web designer in the UK, somewhere in Europe or perhaps even in Asia — to whomever can give them the best deal. They, in turn, will put a markup on the project and hand the completed design back over to you as if were their own. This is called outsourcing. And as you can see from our own experience, mistakes can sometimes happen when work is outsourced. Big mistakes (nothing we do here at MW Web Design ever gets outsourced — everything is done "in-house" and it will always stay that way).

The moral of the story here is to keep an eye on your inbound links if you really want to see what's happening with your website and where your "copy" might just be floating around. Especially on a rainy, Monday morning in Vancouver. And if you happen to find yourself in a similar situation to the one we've described here, be polite and diplomatic in the way you handle things (as much as you may want to use a "foreign" language in your discussion). Diplomacy can go a long way.

Unfortunately, when people don't comply with your requests, you then have to follow a whole different set of procedures and it takes up a tremendous amount of time. We're actually in the midst of dealing with a situation like this for another website we designed and continue to maintain. We'll keep you posted and let you know what happens. Hopefully, diplomacy will prevail.

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