Is your web writer stealing content? Are you encouraging plagiarism?

Do you patronize a business that steals content?

image says "copy paste steal"Last week I visited the website of a local business and was astonished to see that the keyworded webpage describing one of their services had the name of a rival business on it — in a big, bold subhead.

Curious, I went to the website of the rival, and there was the exact same content and photo.

The writer for the first business had simply copied and pasted the content (which appears to be original to the second business) onto the client’s site.

I sent email to the manager of Business #1, alerting her to the situation and explaining that the writer she’d paid to develop original content was instead using the content that Business #2 had paid their own writer, and a stock photography house, to provide. I noted that what her writer had done was plagiarism, and her writer had put them into a situation where they could be sued by the content owner.

The manager wrote back, expressing astonishment. She thanked me for letting her know, and said she’d deal with it.

Out of casual curiosity, I went back the following day to see if she had removed the page. My jaw dropped.

The content was still there. All that the manager of Business #1 had done to deal with the situation was to remove the name of the rightful owner of the content, Business #2, from the page and substitute the name of her business in the big, bold subhead. The unlicensed image was still there.

I called and spoke to the manager. She clearly thought that the error I was pointing out was that she had failed to remove the clue pointing back to the source of her stolen web content. I pressed the point, and her utterly unflappable response was that, hey, the content writer was a friend who had done the work for her for free.

Which shows that you really do get what you pay for.

Interestingly, Business #2 is an extremely competitive chain known for aggressive business practices. I predict it won’t take long for them to find the purloined web content.

I flirted with the idea that the writer who left the name of Business #2 in the stolen copy was making a stab at doing “black hat” SEO*, but decided not to attribute malice (or competence) to what’s clearly several layers of small-time thievery and laziness.

*”Black hat SEO” is the industry term for unethical search engine optimization. One of its milder (“gray hat”) tactics involves mentioning your rival’s name on your webpage so that search engines will lead people looking for your rival’s services to your page, where you can talk them into using your services  instead.

When corporate blogging makes no sense

Once you start treating a company blog like a PR vehicle (posting twice a month, filling it with self-congratulatory press release material, and saving time by ignoring the SEO tools) it quickly becomes ineffective as a marketing tool.

Corporate blogging makes no sense — from the viewpoint of traditional corporate public relations. In fact, if you look at blogging through a traditional PR lens, it’s absolutely counter intuitive.

I raise this point because I frequently talk with public relations professionals who are getting ready to scuttle or let die a corporate blogging program that was established by a previous communications executive or outside consulting firm. To many traditional PR folks, devoting resources to blogging makes absolutely no sense and they can’t imagine why the company started doing it in the first place. They point out that there are much better ways to get out your story to the media and investors — such as the traditional press release or media placement, Twitter, or the company’s Facebook page.

And they are completely right.

However, they are also missing a key point. Corporate blogging is not good PR. It’s good marketing.

Odd as it may seem from the PR viewpoint, business blogs are only secondarily about telling the story. They are primarily tools for helping potential customers locate a company online. Done right, over time, a corporate blog can be as effective at attracting website visitors as paid online advertising. A skillfully done corporate blog lets potential customers know that a company can provide the products and service they’re searching for.

So, here’s a quick guide for my public relations friends who are puzzled by corporate blogging, focusing on why it’s done differently than PR communications:

Frequency. Unlike press releases, which go out when there’s news about the company, blog posts need to go out on a regular basis. Google’s search ranking algorithms continue to reward fresh content. Blogging frequently (a least twice a week) is a great way to get links to a website to appear near the top of search results.

Keywords. Unlike public relations, which is all about getting your own name out there, marketing blogs are all about getting the generic keywords out there — on the web, you already “own” your company name. Suppose a company called Thompson Metalworks sells bakeware to large bakeries. The important keyword phrase is not “Thompson Metalworks” — it’s “bakeware” — or perhaps “baking sheets” “industrial baking pans,” or “non-stick bakeware.” (NOTE: Keywording is not intuitive, even if it looks as though it should be. A good SEO firm can run analyses that show what keywords and keyword phrases people are using when the look for a company in the context of its industry, its region, and its competitors.)

Timeliness. The best way to get a blog post — with its links to a your website — high in the search results is to post about a breaking news story that’s related to your products or services. This does not mean issuing a full corporate analysis, vetted by experts and attorneys, a week after the news event occurs and people have stopped talking about it. It means issuing a simple, innocuous blog post (without any need to insert a corporate spin or go through legal review) within 24 hours of the event occurring. A great example (for our friends at Thompson Metalworks) would be a blog post about music fans baking a 6-foot-wide cake and delivering it to a pop star’s hotel. Or a quick mention of a Wall Street Journal article about an industry trend, such grocery stores expanding their bakery sections.

Use of sophisticated SEO tools. Notice how in the PR world, online press release services have begun including SEO tools in their packaged services? They learned this from marketing. Effective corporate blogs make use of SEO keywording tools (such as excerpts, titles, edited permalinks, tags, and image names) and social media tools (such as links to and from partner sites, and publishing to Twitter and Facebook). This is why crafting a blog post involves more than simply writing and copy editing it. Learning these tools, and using them correctly, takes time.

Basic common sense. Only a small percentage of the visitors attracted to a corporate website by a blog post actually read the blog post itself. Many click quickly through to a product page. Of course, the post still needs to be well written and informative. But, unlike news releases, the ideal blog post is as much about the reader’s interests as it is about the company writing it. Again using our friends at Thompson Metalworks as an example: A post could cover the benefits of registering products, provide information about a sale on a discontinued product line, walk readers through a how-to for upgrading a company product, or simply point out some interesting bit of industry news (such as the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above).

The irony of PR’s disconnect with corporate blogging is that once the corporate communications department starts treating a company’s blog like a PR vehicle (posting twice a month, filling it with self-congratulatory press release material, and saving time by ignoring or misusing the SEO tools) the blog quickly becomes ineffective not just for PR but for marketing as well. At that point, of course, devoting company resources to it…makes absolutely no sense.

Corporate bloggers: Stop competing against Perez Hilton

Stop competing against Perez Hilton. Instead, start using the power of a corporate blog to compete against your actual competition.

There’s blogging…and there’s corporate blogging. Today I’m going to talk about the difference.

Individuals, news organizations, and political groups blog for blogging’s sake. And those blogs live and die by their content: Quality of writing; freshness of information; originality (or outrageousness) of ideas.

Quick — name three individual blogs, news blogs, or political blogs.

Easy: Huffington Post. Robert Scoble. The Unofficial Apple Weblog. Perez Hilton. Gizmodo.

Now name three corporate blogs.


Not so easy.

Just because they aren’t wildly popular doesn’t mean that corporate blogs don’t have their place. Done properly, they can be extremely powerful tools to drive traffic, drive sales, and enhance recognition of a brand, products, or services.

What’s difficult to grasp is that, unlike non-corporate blogs, corporate blogs don’t accomplish these things through great writing, fresh information, or original or outrageous ideas.  They accomplish these results through hard work and smart SEO. Here’s how:

1. They consistently put fresh content on the top tier of the company’s website (which improves search rank for the whole site).

2. They use carefully researched keywords and keyword phrases in headlines, blog text, links, and excerpts. This eventually positions the company near the top of search results for those frequently searched keywords.

3. They link appropriately to other highly ranked websites.

4. They harness WordPress or other user-friendly blogging software to automatically send (keyworded) excerpts with links (think of them as teasers) to the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. This makes the resources invested in the blog post go much further.

For reasons too complex and varied to go into here, few companies are willing to admit that their blogs are simply a tool. And, as a result, they miss out on the powerful results that tool can accomplish.

There’s no way that the carefully screened, days-old corporate information or flattering customer stories that make up corporate blog posts can compete with Perez Hilton or Engadget for readership. Few people read them; all people will ever see of those posts is excerpts on Twitter or on a page of Google search results. (And yet, properly written and keyworded, those excerpts can be very effective in conveying a company’s branding to thousands of viewers.)

To make the situation even worse, many companies fail to invest in the sort of professional SEO analyses that would tell them which keywords to use in their blogs (and on their websites). Instead, they guess about keywords — and often end up emphasizing keywords they already “own” via Google (such as the unique names of their products) rather than the phrases prospective customers are using to try to find their products and services. In the non-intuitive world of keywording, it can even be beneficial to violate the old taboo against mentioning the competition. By mentioning your competition or a competing product on a webpage or blog, you can end up with visitors who started off looking for the competitor’s product but got search results that lured them into viewing your product, on your site, instead. (Chances are your competition is already doing this.)

Bottom line: Stop trying to compete against Perez Hilton! Instead, start using the power of a corporate blog to compete — against your actual competition.

How you will know if it’s real SEO

For the majority of small businesses, and most mid-size businesses, an effective SEO program is not cheap to develop. Here’s why.

Nearly every day there’s a query on one of writers’ lists I follow asking for the name of someone who can “do” search engine optimization (SEO) for websites. It’s apparent that the person thinks that “doing SEO” involves producing a list of keywords so the web producer can stick the keywords on the client’s website.

Soon thereafter, I hear that the writers and producers were rather miffed when the better SEO practitioners quoted them a stiff price. C’mon, how expensive can a list of keywords be?

Admittedly, there are a number of small business websites for which a fairly simple list of keywords will suffice. (I’ll be talking about this in a small-business SEO seminar I’m developing.)

But for the majority of small businesses, and most mid-size businesses, an effective SEO program is not cheap to develop. Here’s why:

  1. You’ve got to start with good data analyses. You need data analyses of not just the client’s site, but the competitors’ sites as well. Knowing what keyword searches are taking customers to competing websites is crucial to deciding what keywords to put on your own site.
  2. You need an expert to recommend how to use the keywords on your site. Some sites need keyworded blog posts, while others merely need keyword-rich content. Others (based on their names and their industries) can’t be helped much by keyworded site elements. These folks will  need to buckle down and buy some Google ads. A good SEO practitioner can provide valuable guidance on creating and testing a Google ad campaign.
  3. You need to set up a web analytics program  — before any SEO work is done. It’s critical that you know the baseline of your site’s web traffic. That way, after you fix the site, or buy ads, you can immediately see and quantify the differences, and measure the effectiveness of the SEO program.

There are a wide variety of SEO firms out there, some good, and some bad. How do you find the right one?

  • Go into it with a budget. You’ll drive away the better SEO folks by expecting their solutions to be cheap.
  • Start by asking: Can my business be helped by SEO, and, if so, how much? Listen carefully to the answers. Some businesses can get enormous benefits from SEO; for others, SEO is nowhere near as cost-effective as improvements to print advertising, signage, word of mouth, product quality, or customer service.
  • Be wary of one-size-fits-all SEO solutions. An SEO solution needs to be customized to match your business needs and your capacity and willingness to spend resources on a social media or SEO program.
  • Don’t be intimidated by SEO practitioners who say their analyses and strategies are too complex for you to understand. If they can’t explain SEO to a client, they have competitors who can.
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