Original and Accountable: How to Detect Plagiarism and Avoid It in Content Marketing
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Original and Accountable: How to Detect Plagiarism, and Avoid It in Content Marketing

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Before any content is published on your website, it’s important to establish a proper review process. You most likely have an editing routine in place to check for grammar, spelling, clarity, but have you given any thought to where the messages in your content are coming from? How can you really ensure that all the ideas introduced in the content are original, and any outside content is credited to the source where it was found?

Knowing how to detect and prevent plagiarism is a key part of your job as a content manager, as you don’t want to suffer the serious legal and ethical consequences of publishing duplicate content. Here’s how to train your writing staff to correctly source content, so you never face any issue of potential plagiarism.

Content Plagiarism Ruins Credibility

Are you thinking to yourself, “Wait—plagiarism? Isn’t that just something that happens in schools or newspapers? Aren’t academics and journalists the only ones who need to worry about that?” Well, unfortunately not.

With so many non-media brands stepping into a publishing role, and the lack of training freelancers receive about proper sourcing, plagiarism is actually a high concern in the content marketing world. Unlike professional journalists who often undergo rigorous education on recognizing and eliminating plagiarism in their works, most content marketers haven’t had this kind of training and often don’t even realize when something they’ve written may fall under the plagiarized category.

A writer may think they’re always in the clear if they provide credit to a source. Yet, if the structure and message of the actual sentences they’re writing read too closely to how it was original material without paraphrasing or commentary, this still raises an issue. Other times, the work may be rushed, and a writer may forget to attribute where the information they’re providing comes from completely. Unfortunately, some writers won’t want to put in the time to formulate their own ideas, and knowingly “borrow” from other places in hopes that no one will notice and they’ll be able to grab a quick byline.

Plagiarism doesn’t just apply to written content either. The videos, images, graphics, and even sound clips you use in your content marketing are all protected under copyright and require proper attribution to their original owners.

So why does this matter so much?

Well, even on the web, plagiarism is widely regarded as a form of theft and counterfeit. In addition to the legal and ethical concerns, having duplicate content can harm your SEO reach, and potentially even blacklist your site from being found on search. And, while that might seem like a nightmare for any brand who understands the value of strong content in their marketing campaigns, there are even worse consequences to consider.

Plagiarism poses huge issues for brand safety. Without active efforts to detect plagiarism, if you publish something that isn’t an original idea, you may walk into work one morning only to be notified that the original source has filed a lawsuit against your brand. The wronged company may even make the situation public on social media, causing their followers to lose trust in your brand’s reputation and damaging your credibility with a potential new audience.

So, what do you do to ensure your site doesn’t end up blacklisted by Google, in a lawsuit, or shamed on social media? The onus is on content marketers to educate their team of content creators and take responsibility for ensuring that every piece their brand publishes is both honest and original.

How to Detect Plagiarism

content plagiarism

Image attribution: Marten Newhall

Luckily, there are many tools available today to help your team check for plagiarized text. Tools like Skyword360’s duplicate content detection feature, compare content against a database of all currently available text on the web in order to identify potential similarities. If a piece of content is flagged as too close of a match, it may be in your best interest to return it to the freelancer, and ask for them to provide sources for the information.

However, automated plagiarism tools aren’t foolproof. While these software evaluations provide a good first look, it’s still your responsibility to review the validity of sources and phrasing during your editorial review process.

Make sure to fact-check all statistics, and click through to view all linked sources. Ask yourself, is the wording in the article different enough from the original source? It’s fine to paraphrase a point and link back to the original website, but if the wording is too similar, your writer should either rephrase or link to a different, more thorough authority.

Educate Your Team First to Prevent Harmful Practices

educate to avoid plaigirism

Image attribution: Helena Lopes

Now that you understand how devastating duplicate content can be for brands—and why journalists and media sites take plagiarism so seriously—consider it time to train your writers, both in-house and freelancers, on how to avoid turning in work where content is sourced incorrectly or ideas are pilfered from a different website. Since there is so little formal education in the content marketing world, it’s up to you to onboard your writings with a detailed training on plagiarism, and continue the lessons on a one-to-two time a year cycle. These trainings can take the form of educational webinars, editorial guidelines, or conversations during your writer onboardings.

First, explain what plagiarism and duplicated content is and the reasons why your brand wants nothing to do with it. Then, talk about common scenarios where writers make mistakes, without sometimes even realizing it. For example, let them know that  patchwriting—which is the process of using a key idea from an article, but only rewriting some of the words—is a form of plagiarism. If they cannot paraphrase it differently, their only option is to quote the source directly. Regardless of whether it’s quoted or paraphrased, remind your team that all non-original content needs to be sited.

And speaking of quotes, lifting quotes from other websites without proper sourcing is a slippery slope that borders on creating an untruthful environment for your audience. Sharing a quote that you found in another article, without directly mentioning where the quote came from makes it look as if it came from an original interview. However, this common error is easy to fix. For example, the writer could edit the text to say, “In an article for the Content Standard, Erin Ollila said, ____” and link directly to that article. By doing this, your creatives are still able to use quality quotations without bordering on dishonest practices.

And finally, let your creative team know that you have a zero-tolerance policy for content plagiarism. If they understand that their jobs are on the line, they’ll work harder on their end to make sure the work they turn into you is up to your standards before you even review it.

Besides the legal and SEO reasons for citing sources, let’s simplify this entire matter for a moment. Ask your writing team, “How would you feel if someone took your words, and passed them off as their own?” I can’t imagine anyone would like that scenario.

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Featured image attribution: Bekah Russom

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Erin Ollila graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. After a 12+ year career in human resources – specializing in employee health and dental benefits, as well as wellness programs– she's jumped headfirst into digital strategy and content creation. Erin believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She lives in Southeastern Massachusetts, neighboring Providence, Rhode Island, one of her favorite small cities. Learn more about her at www.erinollila.com.

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