April 1, 2015

Learning from Mistakes Made on Squidoo

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squidooIn the last few weeks Squidoo members have been rocked by a series of policy changes on the free publishing platform. I say “rocked” because these changes came like a blast out of nowhere, followed by a huge wave of relief that problems, which members have been raising for years, were finally being addressed.

These problems included high ranked pages that were doing well due to gaming, poor quality, “content thin” pages that members were worried would attract a Google “slap” and the use of automation to “update” and create pages. Spun and duplicate content were also worrying issues.

High profile members have had their wings clipped, with special statuses being removed and others have left the site. And it is clear that Squidoo HQ is now acting very quickly when they receive reports about activities by members that risk bringing the site into disrepute.

OK, so this has been a long time coming but the immediate results have been very heartening. Members are reporting that their pages, which had been pushed down in the Squidoo rankings, by the gamers’ pages, are now rising in ranking and we are optimistic that within a relatively short time the site will be much improved and a place where cheats no longer prosper.

But why should this be of interest to online writers who are not members of Squidoo?

I mentioned that this has being going on for years but it is only over the last few months that the damage predicted by many started to become apparent, when members reported drops in traffic last November.

At first it was assumed that the cause was the post-Halloween slump and that traffic would recover once the Christmas Shopping season started. A trend established in previous years. However, it soon became obvious that traffic was NOT recovering as well as it used to at that time of year.

But it was not until the end of February/early March that concrete action was taken by Squidoo HQ followed by various policy-change announcements. The first shock was a ban on page transfers between members, followed by sanctions against specific members. And in a conference call a couple of weeks later Seth Godin confirmed what we had been thinking, that the activities of a small number of members were threatening to spoil it for the many.

As a result new filters were announced that would weed out thin content lenses in a drive to improve the quality of the site. Seth acknowledged that traffic was down but was adamant that it will recover.

Anyone who is writing online with a view to earning an income needs to sit up and take note and learn from what is currently happening on Squidoo.

It is clear that content that exists purely as a means to make sales is going to be punished. Not just on Squidoo, but everywhere.

Content really is becoming “king” and anyone who thinks Google will be OK with a curated list of products, that offers nothing but Amazon or affiliate links is going on a road to nowhere. They may work now, they may be what we think our visitors are looking for and are content with that (because some of these pages make sales), but Google is no longer content with that. And given that we are totally reliant on Google for our traffic, it is time for us to raise our standards.

So how do we avoid being penalised by Google?

Micro-niche sites need to be particularly careful. Just like publishers of pages on platforms like Squidoo and Hubpages. But it is not just the small sites. Internet Giant Interflora got hit so hard by Google that for a time even if you searched for “interflora” the site did not feature in the search returns!

The reason? All to do with offering free flowers for backlinks. This was deemed unethical back-linking by Google.

So if you are tempted to pay for, or offer inducements for, backlinks – think again!

Your pages need to not just have relevant content – they need to be interesting if they are not to be labelled Spam. One method I use to assess a page is to imagine it without any products at all. Take away the links and what are you left with?

We must give our visitors something so that if we were to remove those links, they still get something to take away with them, that does not depend on them clicking through to another site. This can be in the form of a tip, like how to choose a planner, how to clean a shower curtain or the considerations when trying to choose a laptop from the thousands available.

So add in some extra information, don’t just be satisfied with an introduction and some brief product descriptions. These days, as I improve my content, I am aiming for at least 700 words in each article if the article contains any affiliate links.

The time of cutting corners in order to get as much content out there as quickly as possible is over. Gone are the days when 30 brief pages peddling the same or similar products on a micro-niche site was acceptable. And providing we accept that and get out of the bad habits we have adopted, as we attempt to replicate the perceived success of others who managed with “bare bones” articles and sites, then we should be OK.

More information: How Google Is Fighting Spam

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How To Avoid Being Penalised by Google’s Pagerank Algorithm

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There’s not many blogs I subscribe to but Copyblogger is one of the few. And this morning a link to this article dropped into my in-box:

How Google’s PageRank Algorithm Screwed the Online Writer (and What They Did to Fix It).

As with all Copyblogger’s posts, it makes for interesting reading and also includes a Content Writing Checklist to help us make sure that we are writing the sort of content that Google will reward, rather than penalize.

I think most of us now understand why Google introduced Panda and changed the basis of its Pagerank Algorithm – in the end it was just too easy to game. Links were rewarded without much consideration of the quality of those links or how they were generated. So now we are told the focus is on the content and yes, links are still valuable but they need to be relevant. Now 5 links coming in from quality sites with related content are going to be worth more than 50 links you paid for on Fiverr.

Sites that grew up as a place to write weak content for the sole purpose of linking to your blogs were hammered by Panda. But those sites which could see Panda coming and cleaned up their acts by dis-allowing anything other than G-Rated Content, banning dodgy topics and coming down on duplicate content are still going strong.

If, like me, you have been writing on the free publishing platform Squidoo for the past few years then you will recall all the changes that have been made to ensure that Google still rates the site. And by the same token, if you wrote (or are still writing) on Hubpages, you will recall the pain when Panda hit.

These sites are pretty good about making sure that their Members know what is expected of them these days. But what if you don’t belong to any of these sites and are “flying solo” on your own blogs or websites?

Keeping up with the ever-evolving Google Algorithm is hard, but this is where Copyblogger can help. They do the keeping up for you and in their post they have published a handy 20-point Checklist for creating high quality content. Much of it is common sense, but sometimes it is good to be reminded of things like: “Care — deeply — about the quality of your writing, and about your audience” and “Create something strangers want to share and bookmark“.

So go visit – it will only take a few minutes to read the article but I guarantee if you follow their advice you will be well on the way to ensuring that your sites don’t feel the painful swipe of Panda’s Paw.

Image: Public Domain from Pixabay

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Copyright is Just the Tip of the Iceberg: What About Fair Use?

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Iceberg at Baffin BayThere’s been a lot of discussion lately in various Squidoo forums about copyright and the need to properly attribute photos according to Squidoo’s new rules. The issue is a hot one, and the discussions often include at least one person making a very strong assertion that using any copyrighted image is blatant theft. No exceptions. End of discussion.

I always cringe at those remarks because it’s just not that simple. Copyright is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using images properly online, and Squidoo’s rules are do not cover all the myriad issues involved in publishing images.

Basics of Copyright
Copyright kicks in when your image is completed in a “fixed” medium, and with that comes an automatic assumption that the creation has value and needs to be protected.

When you write something or post an image online, it automatically becomes copyrighted by virtue of being published for others to see. You can also register your work with the US Copyright Office (for US residents). This involves publishing your creation, sending in some forms, paying a fee, waiting a long time (months!), and then finally receiving a piece of paper that says you have registered your copyrighted work. Registration is a prerequisite for claiming statutory damages in a copyright claim.

(Please note that I’m discussing US law here, that I’m not a lawyer, that this is my personal understanding of the law, and that laws may vary by country.)

Back in the days before the Internet existed, publishing a photo was usually pretty clearcut. It appeared in a magazine, book, newspaper or other printed medium, and if someone wanted to copy your work from that publication, it took a lot more effort than a simple mouse click. The Internet changed that. Now it’s much easier to violate copyright laws. People see a photo they like, copy it and republish it.

What Squidoo’s Doing About It
Squidoo has responded to this behavior by asking their members to credit every image they use and to provide a hyperlink back to the page where the image was found. But is that enough? Is it too much? Does that ensure you’re not breaking any laws?

The answer, in my opinion, is that it misses the mark. The rule goes above and beyond legal requirements (there is no law that requires attribution, much less hyperlinking), but it only addresses attribution. I think it gives people the false impression that if they’ve attributed and hyperlinked the photo, there aren’t any other issues to consider.

It’s not that easy.

The laws regarding what can be photographed and what can be published under what circumstances are complex. Just because you took a photo doesn’t mean you have the legal right to publish it or profit from it.

In the United States, it is legal to take photos in public places and to publish those images, even if there are identifiable persons in the photo. That doesn’t mean someone can’t get upset if they find themselves on your blog post, but the law is on your side. Imagine how difficult it would be for news photographers to take photos at presidential rallies if they had to worry about getting permission from every crowd member who might be in the background!

The law changes, however, when you step onto private property. This includes places open to the public such as theme parks, swimming pools, shopping malls, etc. And this is when things get a little (ok, a lot!) more complicated.

The law gives you the right to take photos in these privately owned public places unless there’s a clear sign prohibiting it but, you don’t necessarily have the right to publish or profit from those photos, especially if there are identifiable people in them. In this case, you need permission from every identifiable person in the picture or you’re violating their privacy.

So if you go to Disneyland or Six Flags or even your local shopping mall and take photos on your own camera of your own family and publish them on your own blog, if there is an identifiable person in the background, you might actually be breaking the law. Stock photo agencies avoid this problem by requiring signed permission, known as model releases, from every identifiable person in an image.

To make it even more complicated, there are also rules about publishing photos of an identifiable private place. Technically, Disneyland could probably stop you from selling a photo of your family if the Matterhorn or the Haunted Mansion or the entrance to the park were visible in the photo. Why? Because they own those things.

Likewise, if you took a photo of your son wearing Nike sneakers and Levis’ jeans and those trademarks are visible on his clothing, you might be violating trademark laws by selling that photo, even though you took it on your camera, on your property and of your own son. You can, however, do it if you have a property release (which is like a model release, but for objects rather than people), or if it’s used for editorial purposes only.

How Fair Use Helps
Sound ridiculously strict and complicated? It is. And yet it’s not. What simplifies everything is Fair Use.

In very broad terms, fair use allows for the use of copyrighted work in a way that doesn’t substantially infringe upon the creator’s rights. It allows the use of copyrighted works without permission for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

On Squidoo and other free publishing platforms, members usually include some type of personal criticism, comment or news, regardless of whether the page is primarily designed to generate income or simply to share an idea. Because of this, it’s easy to make an argument for the first requirement of the Fair Use equation.

It’s the second part of the equation that gets tricky. Determining Fair Use is a balancing test that considers the following:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

There is NO litmus test to tell you definitively whether republication of a copyrighted image is legal under fair use. Fair use is decided on a case by case basis. If you republish a copyrighted image under the belief that it is fair use, the only way to know if you were right is to get sued and win. You can have an opinion, and it may be right, but it’s not the definitive answer on the question.

There is also a lot of gray area when it comes to photos of people, property and trademarks. The law also makes fair use exceptions for trademarks and allows for “editorial use” (as opposed to commercial use) of some images. That means you can take a photo of a trademarked object you own, write a review of it and probably not worry about getting slapped with a trademark infringement suit over your photo.

There are other more ambiguous factors at work, as well.

For instance, consider YouTube. How many homemade videos have you watched with soundtracks from well-known songs or images that clearly don’t belong to the video creator? Songs and lyrics are protected by copyright law, so why are all these videos allowed to exist? Google is making money from the site, so they’re obviously benefiting from all this mass copyright infringement. Why don’t the music companies stop it?

The answer, I think, is that the benefits outweigh the risks. Think of it in terms of speeding laws. In the US, the national speed limit on highways is 65 mph. If you’re going 66 or 67 and pass a police officer, chances are that you’re not going to get a ticket. Why not? You’re breaking the law.

But the law is designed for a purpose – not just to have a random rule, but to keep people safe. The officer is choosing to enforce the purpose, not the rule. So as long as you’re keeping with the traffic and driving safely, he probably won’t bother you.

However, if you’re driving 66 mph and it’s dark, rainy and all the cars around you are going 45 mph, you probably will get a ticket. Why? Because now the law matters. You’re not only violating the strict letter of the law, but the intent of the law, as well.

When it comes to copyright and trademark law, I think big companies are often like police officers – they will choose to look the other way if the violation is harmless or even benefits them. The music companies could fight, but they know that having 5 million people watch parodies of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is a great way to promote the song. The benefits outweigh the risks.

Likewise, Disney could choose to go after every single coloring site on the web that features Disney characters. Some of them might be violating Disney’s copyright by actually using Disney images. Others might be violating their trademark by creating their own images of Disney characters. Either way, they’re in violation of the letter of the law (although a good lawyer could probably make a case for fair use on a number of fronts).

But what does Disney gain by shutting them down? Nothing.

What does Disney gain from allowing them to continue? Continued interest in and promotion of their characters, movies, books, TV shows, etc. Essentially, it’s free marketing. Granted, it’s free marketing they can’t control, but that’s only because they choose not to. Like the police officer, they choose when to intervene and when not to.

What it Means for You
All of these factors (and probably many others I’m not even aware of) are always at play when you publish an image online. You need to be aware of them whether the photo is your own or someone else’s. When you republish a small, low-resolution copyrighted image from another site, give them credit and link back to them, then you probably have a good case for fair use. That doesn’t mean the copyright owner will like it. It doesn’t mean they can’t litigate the issue. And it doesn’t mean that Squidoo’s rules for crediting and linking back to the site will offer you any protection.

The best course of action is to educate yourself, do your best to follow the law, use your own photos whenever possible, and remember that the most dangerous part of the iceberg is the part you can’t see.

[Editor’s note: While some of this article relates to requirements for Image Use on Squidoo, much of it relates to copyright and fair use issues wherever we are publishing.

We are particularly grateful to Lisa for agreeing to do this Guest Post. Fair Use has stirred up much angst and controversy in some of our networking groups and hopefully this article will help more of us understand the complexities of Fair Use and how it can be applied to the use of images.]

Image Credit: Image found on wikipedia and has been released into the Public Domain

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Accepting Change

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Change Is Inevitable

When writing on the web, we find that the overall environment is in a constant state of change. Accepting change can be difficult for many people. No one really looks forward to changes. We get comfortable in the way we approach our tasks and it is unsettling when suddenly the rules change and we have to go about it differently. Change is inevitable in life, isn’t it? Whether it is the way a search engine will go about ranking our content or the way a platform that we write on wants us to approach writing our content on their site; we are often hit with making changes in our writing habits. The way I see it, we can accept the change in one of two ways. We can be negative and tell all who will listen that we find these changes totally unfair and insist that things go back to the way they were or we can be positive and try our best to adapt to the changes at hand.

It is not personal…it is business

I think it is very important to keep in mind that when a site or a search engine makes changes to the way they want you to approach writing your content that it is not personal. The site or search engine didn’t make the change to pick on you. Site Owners make changes because it fits their business model or improves their site. Search Engines will make changes to make the results better for the people searching for a topic and to get rid of the cheaters. It is not personal, it is business. They have to look at the whole picture and what works best for the masses. Decisions have to be made that will enhance a site and guarantee future success. Sometimes, the changes are not going to be popular but they are necessary. As an individual we may not see the necessity for a change because we don’t have inside information as to what is coming in the near future. The site owner probably does and knows that popular or unpopular the change or changes have to be implemented in order to have growth in their profits and your continued success.

It is a little like when a parent warns a child not to touch the stove. The parent knows that if they do, they will be hurt and that is the last thing they want for their child. They do not make the rule to be mean to their child but to protect them. Sometimes, in deviance, the child touches the stove anyway.

Dinosaur Or Survivor?

Accepting change can be difficult and uncomfortable at times. We have a choice, we always have a choice! We can be like the dinosaurs stumbling around roaring with indignation to the changes in the environment. How did that work for them? Met any dinosaurs lately?

The other choice for accepting change would be to decide to be a survivor. We can become a new or at least different creature by adapting to the climate changes of where we write. Learning to nibble on the new fruits of success, trust the keepers of the habitat to provide us with light and sustenance, and be positive in a new way of existing in an ever changing world.

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Beginners Blog Looking For Traffic

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We have spent the last few months answering questions about a Beginners Blog that my husband asked me as he contemplates beginning his own blog and now it is time to talk about ways to get traffic to that new blog.

Years ago I tried doing a blog or two that were standing all alone out in the blogosphere and I have to tell you they did not fair well. My topic was cool and it was a popular one but there was just so much competition out there that it was a rare thing if someone found me and my little blog. I had no clue how to go about getting that much needed traffic and hopefully readers that were interested in what I was writing about.

In 2009 I was working with a small group of people and the discussion was to start a blog using the tools that we had learned about keyword research, article writing, and general promotional techniques. A few of us, including myself and AJ, took the discussion seriously and started a brand new blog on a multi-user site.  I started what has become my first successful blog…Native American Totems. We are going to talk about the things that I did back then to get that blog generating traffic and how I have grown it since then.  The lowly little blog has grown to a readership of an average of 5,000+ readers each month and I make some nice money with it each month.

What was the first “right” thing I did? I put that blog on a multi-user site in the beginning. When you start your blog on a site like we have here at Writing Online you have the added advantage of a built in audience. The other members can see on the home page that you have written a new post and generally they are supportive enough to go read it and sometimes comment on it. Perhaps they like it so much that they share it with their friends on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.  Being on a multi-user site helps you with traffic in your early stages of blogging.

Join me next week as we continue our discussion on getting traffic for a Beginners Blog…

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Deleting a Blog and Repurposing the Content

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I have just removed the automatic renewal for one of my domains and tomorrow one of my blogs will be no more. I am clearing out the clutter in my life both on and offline and you know what? It feels good!

At first it was a hard decision to make. The blog was about Bullying, the topic that first got me writing online and when I started to think about deleting it, I almost felt I was betraying a worthwhile cause. However, the blog was not getting much traffic and much as I want to continue campaigning against bullying, keeping the blog going was not the best use of my time.

What made me feel better about the way I was thinking was the realisation that although the traffic to the blog was not very good, I knew I could probably get more traffic to the same content on publishing platforms like Wizzley and Squidoo. And yes, as a result, there may be some income to be generated.

Some people may think it is wrong of me to look at making money from writing about a worthwhile cause. But let’s think about it this way. Making money from pages on Wizzley and Squidoo then allows me to “donate” my time elsewhere. And I do. I write on a major anti-bullying website that produces a Bully Prevention E-Zine.

I am not paid for these articles, I do not expect to be. It is my way of “giving back” because of everything I learned when my own daughter was bullied. Now I want to help other parents and children who may find themselves in the same position we were in.

But I digress. Not only did I decide to dump the blog, it was when I was going through that angst we all go through at the thought of deleting content, that I had my “light-bulb” moment. You know, the thought of all that keyword research, making sure the content was unique as well as helpful, the backlinking….it is the realisation of all that time spent that makes the thought of deleting content almost unthinkable.

However, my content lives on. I redid the keyword research and “repurposed” the best posts, which can now be found on Wizzley. Bullying Help is the page that links all my anti-bullying content together and it is already getting traffic at a higher rate than when it lived on the blog.


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Plagiarism – What to do if your Content is Stolen

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In my last post What is Plagiarism?, I outlined what constitutes content and image theft and how not to plagiarise. In this post I will give you some tips on what to do if you discover your content has been stolen from you, used without permission or presented as someone else’s thoughts and ideas.

Sometimes we remain in blissful ignorance that our content has been stolen. However, we can get a nasty wake-up call when we check our backlinks and find our content is posted on someone else’s site. OK, so we may have a backlink, but if the site is unrelated to the topic about which we are writing and/or the site is of poor quality and even “spammy”, then we may like to get that backlink removed along with the content.

Another way you can check to see if your content has been stolen is to copy and paste a chunk of text from your content into a Google Search Box. You may get one heck of a surprise :(

Your content has been stolen – what next?

There’s various things you can try, but be prepared to get “heavy”, very quickly if an initial approach to the site owner is ignored and frequently you will find that not only is there no way to contact the site owner, but comments are disabled too. A clear sign that they know exactly what they are doing.

So, if you cannot contact the Content Thief, or if they ignore you, the next thing to check is exactly where the Blog/Site is hosted. If it is Blogger or WordPress.Com, then you are in luck.

Blogger is owned by Google and Google is clear on its policy with regard to copyright infringement:

It is Google’s policy to respond to notices of alleged copyright infringement that comply with applicable international intellectual property law (including, in the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and to terminating the accounts of repeat infringers. Details of Google’s policy can be found at http://www.google.com/dmca.html.

The link gives very comprehensive instructions as to how you can file a complaint with Google about anyone who has stolen your content and I can confirm, from personal experience, that they follow things up very quickly.

If the blog/site is hosted on WordPress.Com (note this is the free WordPress Blogging Platform and does NOT relate to sites using a WordPress.org template) then their Terms of Service leave users in no doubt that:

By making Content available, you represent and warrant that:

the downloading, copying and use of the Content will not infringe the proprietary rights, including but not limited to the copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret rights, of any third party;

WordPress manage their Complaints process via Automaticc and this can be found at: http://automattic.com/dmca/, where they have added a very handy form for you to use for your complaint that ensures you give them all the information they need to be able to check your allegation of Copyright Violation. And again, I have been very successful with complaints I have made using this process and in one case the whole blog got taken down – heh heh!

Just remember that if you use a form to submit a complaint, then this may not be saved in your email folder – keep a note of the date the complaint was submitted, together with a copy of what you say – this can be handy if you need to follow up due to a lack of response.

If the offending Blog is not hosted by Blogger or Wrodpress, then you can still take action, particularly if the site has Google Adsense on it. Google does not take prisoners and anyone stealing content is violating their Terms and Conditions. Violators will often find their Adsense Account being cancelled.

If none of the above applies, your final recourse is to find out which Company is Hosting the Blog. I have had mixed success here because some Companies just ignore your emails or they may say they will not take action without a Court Order. Others have been very helpful.

To find out how to go about finding the host of a website, Plagiarism Today has a post Finding the Host, which tells you what you need to know.

You will then need to check the Host’s TOS regarding content and follow their complaints’ process.

If you have any specific questions about Plagiarism, then head over to the Writing Online Forum where a thread has been started.

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What is Plagiarism?

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Dictionary Definition of plagiarise: “Publish borrowed thoughts as original; steal from thus”.

Before the days of the internet, when we were at school or college we were taught that when we researched topics we had to write our essays in our own words and that it was essential to cite our sources. It was easy for our teachers to catch us out if we did not cite our sources, because let’s face it, at age 12, not many of us would have had much original knowledge about Newton’s Theory of Relativity until we had done some research on it!

However, with the development of the internet and so much information now at our fingertips, plagiarism has taken on a whole new meaning. Often referred to as “copy and paste content”, it is just so easy to plagiarise. And it is rife!

The act of Plagiarism is often carried out in pure ignorance. Many online writers seem to have the genuine belief that once something is published on the world wide web, it is in the public domain and therefore it is permissable to copy content and publish it on our own sites.

However, what these people don’t stop to think about is, even if the content WERE free to use elsewhere, is it ethical to present it as one’s own thoughts? Isn’t that deception?

Others think that copying content is OK providing they link to the original content. But it is NOT OK to reproduce other’s work, other than a small excerpt (providing it is properly credited and linked to), unless you expressly have the original Author’s permission.

But sadly in many cases, the act of Plagiarism is a deliberate act carried out by people who know exactly what they are doing. They copy the content, present it as their own and nowhere do they credit the original author.

Here’s an example, using Star Wars.

My family loves the Star Wars films. My son can look at any still from the three original Star Wars movies and tell you what dialogue is being spoken. I could write an intro to a page and it would be so personal that you would then believe the rest of the page is my own work, because I can come across as being passionate about the topic.

But what I have seen done (many times) is an intro that is clearly personal followed by film reviews that are lifted from the IMDb (the International Movie Database) and presented as the page author’s own film reviews. And of course there’s no credit to the original source, because the plagiariser does not want to get caught out.

I have even seen a review done on a classic car and one of the sections is headed “My Review of…..” but the original author was someone in another country. The plagiariser even copied copyrighted pictures of the car.

But why is Plagiarism so bad?

Think about it. You have spent months building original content in a niche. It may be a niche that started as the result of a personal hobby or interest or it may be a niche that you came across in which you subsequently developed an interest and knowledge. It does not matter how the niche started, but you have worked hard to develop your content and it is getting traffic and making sales.

Your content could be on your own niche blog or part of a series of niche topics published on platforms like Wizzley, Squidoo or Hubpages.

Then along comes a plagiariser who copies your content and blatently presents it as their own! To add insult to injury, they have harvested the keywords that you so painstakingly researched. And to rub salt into the wound, their version of YOUR content starts ranking higher for those keywords than your page and starts to get what was originally YOUR traffic.

The whole thing gets even worse when plagiarised pages on Publishing Platforms gain valuable page rank on those platforms, which in turn pushes down pages with honest, original content and affects the potential income you can earn on those sites.

How to NOT Plagiarise

It is so easy to avoid plagiarising other people’s content. All you have to do is:

research facts and information from various sources
rewrite in your own words
ideally add your own thoughts and opinions
credit the original source, preferably with a properly formatted link to that source

By linking to the sources, you are acknowledging the valuable work done by the original authors AND you are giving them a backlink – it’s the least you can do!

Plagiarists are cheats. They do it purely for financial gain and because they are so hell bent on making pages and content quickly. They churn out page after page, while the rest of us are still stuck on one page as we make sure the content is original and that we give our sources the credit they are due.

In my next article I will explain how you can check to see if your content is being stolen and what you can do about it.

Copyright Infringements – all about various forms of Copyright Infringement and how to avoid it

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Every Page Is A Landing Page

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[We are delighted to be able to introduce PaulOnBooks to the members of Writing Online. Paul will be writing Guest Posts from time to time and although, as Paul says in the post, this article makes mention of modules on Squidoo, this advice applies no matter where you are writing and what tools you may be using to enhance that writing]

You doubtless know that pages can and should be optimised for search engines; you can read about many of the techniques on this very site. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is, to put it very crudely, arranging page content so that it persuades search engines that the page is a good match in content for certain searched words and phrases. Do this well and your page will rank high on SERPS (Search Engine Results PageS) for whatever your keywords are, perhaps “Top Ten Christmas Gifts For Fathers”.

Allied to SEO are two other techniques: backlinking and linking via social media. Again, these are described elsewhere on this site so I won’t go into detail – suffice it to say that links to your page from good sites will increase its attractiveness in the eyes of search engines. Links from social media such as Facebook give less or no search engine juice at the moment.

This post talks about Squidoo lenses. Bar features unique to Squidoo, the points made are applicable to any type of page or post.

Taking this further, if you have a product to market you will follow all the rules and use all the techniques to attract traffic from search engines. Your linking techniques will also bring traffic directly to your page. All will have come because of a small amount of text: “Top Ten Christmas Gifts For Fathers”. That’s your product – but does your page deliver?

Internet marketing experts spend much time and thought on the design of landing pages – the pages that traffic reaches first. They understand from experience that there are good landing pages and bad, and indeed downright awful landing pages. However, do you as a lensmaker or page creator understand that as a concept? You’ve put your energy into SEO, publicity and crafting a fine lens or post – it’s visually appealing, you’ve used all the bells and whistles, including a few embedded videos, to make a page that all your peers admire. What you probably haven’t done is consider the page as a landing page for a marketing offer. Your product is your Amazon affiliate links – the offer is curated content with implicit expertise – “I’m good at picking Christmas presents for fathers” – so is the post doing its job?

You’ll doubtless have headings high up on the page using the keywords. You’ll mention them in text. Where then are the links to the products? Where is the accompanying text that shows your curation? Consider some of the things you might do on a lens:

Introduction: Standard opening sentences with keywords. Then something bland about happy Christmases you’ve known.

A Nice Youtube Module: Hey, everyone likes carols – let’s have ten of those.

Reminiscing: Make the visitor feel Christmassy with a nice long ramble about last year when the cat ate the chocolate money from the tree and was sick on granny’s present.

Flickr Module: Several pictures of said cat – hey, it’s good for clickouts anyway.

Finally, you’ve set the scene, you’ve got the reader feeling warm and happy, you show him or her an Amazon module. Except you don’t, because he or she has long ago got fed up waiting for the page to load or reading about that damn cat and has hit the back button. All those hours of labour down the pan …

Rewind to the notion of a landing page. What’s the first task of a landing page? To tell the prospective buyer that they’re on the right page. What’s the second task of a landing page? To show him the product and persuade him to buy.

Tell the buyer he’s come to the right page – that means make it clear that this page is about ten selected gifts for fathers. It’s not about Christmas in general, it’s not about the best version of Silent Night on Youtube and it’s certainly not about your cat. Give him relevant text and a few small illustrations that clearly follow the marketing message, no more than that.

Now show him the product – and that means get the actual gifts in his face before he leaves the page. And make it clear that this is the product – a big pic, a clear “why you should buy this” message and a big “Buy From Amazon” button. Don’t pussyfoot around, don’t ashamedly witter on about nice presents and then half-heartedly mention a nice scarf – if you’re shy or bashful you shouldn’t be writing sales pages.

“But I’m not writing a sales page,” you cry. Yes you are – if you’re not advertising something then the page is the product, and it’s the landing page at the same time. Look at it from that point of view and ask if you’re delivering. Modify your page accordingly and you’ll see visitors spending longer on the page and rating it higher – you’re delivering what they expected.

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Why Do We Need to Write with Search Engines in Mind?

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If you are going to write online whether you are writing for profit, or writing for influence, it is important to grasp how people find information on the internet.

When people search for information online, they type in search terms into one of the many search engines that are available.  We most often hear about the largest search engine, Google, although there are several other search engines, some are more highly defined for a certain type of usage.  But in the end, most people search via a search engine.

Therefore, if you want people to find your online writing, you need to write with the search engine technology in mind.  If you don’t care if people find your writing, if you are writing a personal journal or blog, you can actually hide it from search engines, but most of us are writing for a wider audience, and therefore we are subject to the whims of how search engines work.

What happens when we search for something online?  We have all had the experience of typing in a term like “travel” for instance, and coming up with a huge and widely ranging list of answers.  Most of us get tired of wading through pages of answers after looking at the first few pages, and not finding what we want.  So what do we do?  We search again, with a more narrow term like “Mexico travel.”  This will bring up more specific listings that move us in the direction we are more interested in.

Once I narrow down where in Mexico I want to travel, I will then narrow down my search terms to things like “hotels in Mexico City,” “attractions in Mexico City,” or “where to swim in Mexico City.”  As you can see, my search has narrowed to more specific items that I need information about for my trip.  Once I decide on the hotel, I may even type in “10 best restaurants in Mexico City for travelers” to decide where I want to eat.  This is how I will find out the details of what I need to know before I travel.

With this example in mind, I think you can see that in order for my article about Mexico City to be found by this searcher, I would have to include the searcher’s language.  Or if I have an entire website, I would create categories to match what Mexico City travelers would want to know.  This is how the right people will find my information.

Does that mean that I need to sacrifice the integrity or the originality of my writing?  Not at all.  If you can’t figure out how to write an original post or article with a few key words or phrases for your audience, then you are really much of a writer.  How many essays did you have to write in school on a specific topic?  This is no different except that your grade is based on how many people find your work.

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