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Christina SchmitzJanuary 22, 20134 min read

Content Marketing Copycats: Check Into The Challenges

content marketing copycatYou are the genuine article. You do not fear the penguin or the grammar police.

You’ve created original, compelling content, and can’t wait to give it wings.

The trouble is, you can’t control exactly where it will land. Especially when someone steals your copy for another website, with no credit or link sent back your way.

When it comes to content, imitation isn’t all that flattering when you’re the one who’s put in the thought, time and money.

Content Marketing: Too Much of a Good Thing?

We wholeheartedly agree that the rise of content marketing is positive for all of its inherent benefits: brand building and thought leadership, search, giving substance to social business, lead nurturing through the purchase process, audience education and storytelling, career opportunities for journalists and marketers, and so on.  

However, too much of this good thing is killing its effectiveness, and leading to more “checking off to-do lists” than thoughtful planning behind it. While the general feeling is that content is the end-all, be-all for marketers today, we don’t hear much about what’s happening beneath the surface of the hype: rampant plagiarism.

Plagiarism, and failing to give credit where credit’s due, undercuts individuals and brands that put a priority on quality over quantity. But for the rest of the pack, many businesses will continue to do just fine with the cut-and-paste approach—unless there are major consequences for disingenuous content.

Without a collaborative commitment to quality from brands and the marketing industry to address the issue, companies and individuals face painful choices: either spend major time and budget to produce large amounts of legitimate content, or sacrifice the quality of deliverables for the sake of higher volumes, and the risks of plagiarism therein.

These conditions pave the way for straight-up copying or patchwriting, described by Kelly McBride (of Poynter as “a failed attempt at paraphrasing.”

The issue came into the spotlight last fall when Wired magazine fired high-profile writer Jonah Lehrer for his transgressions in journalistic integrity, including “patchwriting” his own work.

Different Roles, Different Challenges

Small- to mid-size companies are right in the thick of this. They may lack the marketing and advertising budgets of their larger competitors, and instead turn to more affordable content marketing options. However, inexpensive content outsourcing can raise additional challenges in ensuring quality, original pieces are delivered.

Professional writers, at the mercy of market conditions, have tough decisions on how to price their services, and what level of value they deliver for the price clients are willing to pay.

Marketing agencies must tip-toe around the issues, knowing full well the ramifications if the content delivered is plagiarized, or doesn’t perform and achieve client goals.

Agencies also don’t want to price themselves out of the market for prospects. This becomes an operational issue: they must decide how to staff or outsource content, while pricing to break-even or turn a profit.

Similar decisions apply for marketing departments seeking to produce content internally: who do you hire, and at what salary and experience level to deliver the perceived value to the business?  Also, what checks and balances should you employ to make sure they are correctly sourcing material?

As a general rule, an investment in low-quality content is not a good move in the long run, even if you achieve short-term gains.

If you're publishing content that helps your business (or your clients’ businesses) get found, educates and drives leads toward purchases, and keeps your customers loyal, why would you settle for anything but the best? Otherwise you're getting the wrong kind of message out to people, and likely losing those relationships you're trying to gain.

What Can We Do?

It will no doubt take a massive effort to tame the content-scraping, copying, patchworking and plagiarism madness. The cure-all isn’t here today, however, I hope the following tips and resources can help inform and lead you in the right direction.

  • View HubSpot's resource, How Not to Steal People's Content on the Web, for a guide to proper citing and attribution of online work.
  • Take advantage of online keyword monitoring tools such as Google alerts, Radian6 and more, to identify copying in action.
  • There’s a valuable online resource center called Plagiarism Today that covers all things content theft and copyright.
  • is a free online plagiarism search tool, which also offers a premium version to check if content is unique and original.
  • Google is doing its part to bring quality content to the top, including its focus on AuthorRank.
  • Content Marketing Institute offers resources from experts in the field, to help ensure your content is of the highest quality and designed to achieve maximum results.
  • covers all things journalism and media, including its Regret the Error blog on “accuracy, errors and the craft of verification.”
  • Protect your free content, and position yourself to stand up against anyone who steals it, with Creative Commons licensing.

Above all: don’t approach content marketing blindly. Do your homework when it comes to hiring writing talent or contracting with a writing services company to ensure proper practices. Cross-check the content you’re creating with the 7 Key Elements of Great Business Content.

And, when you’ve produced quality, original content, be sure to protect yourself from content copycats, and take back what’s yours when the situation gets out of bounds. 

What challenges have you faced as a content marketer or writer? How do you balance a healthy volume of production with the quality work that drives results?


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