Plagiarism: What It Is and How You Can Avoid It

Plagiarism. It’s a dirty word that has made headlines in the music industry. It also hits me where I live: in the world of content writing. I got involved in a lively discussion yesterday when a colleague in one of my writing groups lost a lucrative gig because she was accused—and unjustly so, we all believed—of plagiarism.

The Definition of Plagiarism

Essentially, plagiarism is when you copy someone else’s work or ideas and pass them off as your own. In writing, whether it’s a term paper or a blog post, if you want to use someone else’s words, it’s important to cite the original work.

There are four types of plagiarism that most widely recognize:

  1. Direct plagiarism—when content has been copied word-for-word. In one of my gigs as a dental content marketing writer, we saw this frequently. Dentists came to us for website updates, and to save money, they wanted to use their existing content. Often we discovered that hundreds of other dentists had the exact same content on their websites. This is a no-no. It’s not only ethically wrong, but Google will penalize you (more on that later).
  2. Self-plagiarism—when you use previous work written for a new project. In school, this could mean using parts of papers previously written or turning in the same paper to two different classes without those involved—the professors, in particular—knowing about it. In online content, this could mean a tech writer inadvertently using the same words used for one article in another. This is often done unintentionally by a writer who uses similar terms and phrases over and over.
  3. Mosaic plagiarism—when a writer uses a mix of phrases from another writer without attributing the source.
  4. Accidental plagiarism—when content is unintentionally paraphrased or quoted without source citation. Accidental or not, this is unacceptable, and it still constitutes plagiarism.

What Constitutes Plagiarism—and What Doesn’t?

In the discussion I mentioned above, the writer in question was accused of plagiarism because of listing a conference and copying some of the educational tracks used in the conference materials. I have been accused of plagiarism while writing for a specific industry where there is an inevitability of certain words and phrases being repeated. But this client had a 0 percent duplicate content copy, so it often meant quite a bit of time spent to get to this point.

There has to be a happy medium, doesn’t there?

Where Does Google Come In?

When websites have duplicate content, search engine ranking is problematic because Google doesn’t know which website is the authoritative one. Duplicate content will wreak havoc on your website’s ranking. It often happens to businesses who pay for discounted websites that essentially lift copy off other websites. While the price tag of a low-cost website is appealing, the price businesses will pay for plagiarism is not.

Avoiding Plagiarism

One of the easiest ways to ensure all content you are writing is original is to run it through a plagiarism checker such as Copyscape. Grammar plug-in Grammarly also has a plagiarism checker. (And it’s not a bad idea to run your work through both, just to be safe.) Getting a ding or two (or even a few more, depending on the length of your content), is generally considered acceptable and not an offense that comes with a Google penalty. Examples might include common phrases such as “homes for sale” or “real estate agents” in a blog about real estate.

Be aware that your website is also at risk of being plagiarized. It’s a good idea to check it occasionally using a checker such as Copyscape. Now might just be a good time to do that.

All Authors Need Editors. Period.

hire a copy editorI read a tweet this morning that was something about “why self-published writers need editors”—and my first thought was when was there ever a question about self-published writers needing editors? As it becomes easier and easier to publish your own work, it is also becoming easier for writers to get caught up in the excitement of being published. In their eagerness, editing is often skipped. If the book-publishing industry is to prosper, every author must take personal responsibility for presenting a quality product.

Copy editing is a special skill most authors don’t perform all that well, particularly on their own material. A poorly edited book is harder to read, harder to believe, and less likely to be reviewed—or reviewed negatively. It is shameful to see a good book cut to ribbons by a reviewer because of poor grammar or spelling.

I base the vast majority of my Amazon book purchases on reviews. If a book is noted to have lots of errors in it, I won’t buy it. I don’t care how good the story sounds.

Because authors know their subjects so well, they are usually too close to their material to edit it; all objectivity is lost. A professional editor can help detect passages that are unclear, poorly organized, or overwritten. This is called content or creative editing. During a second reading your editor will copyedit, whisking out grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation errors. And for those authors who are concerned their “voice” will be taken out of their writing, a good editor will hone and polish your work, not impose his or her own style on it.

Here’s the thing: Writers can get so close to their writing that they fail to see the problems with it. A true professional writer, much like a scientist seeking a peer review of a study, will want an editor to take a look with fresh and unbiased eyes at his or her work in progress before publishing it.

Allow me to demonstrate my point with an analogy. I heard this years ago, and it really rings true.

I was talking to my acupuncturist. He asked me about the pain I was experiencing lately due to my dystonia. I told him it was about the same as usual, but then I’d adjusted to having a certain amount of pain over the years.

He said (essentially), “Pain is like odor. When you walk into a stinky room, you notice it right away. But after you’re there for a few hours, you don’t smell anything.”

Now, that’s why writers need editors.

And if you don’t get that analogy, you have no business being a writer.

‘Nuf said. And if you are looking for an editor for your work, let’s talk.

Cashing in on Good Quality Content for Your Business

create good contentYou need content for your business. You need to keep your website fresh and you know content is one way to boost your SEO. Maybe you just don’t have the time or talent to write it yourself, and a colleague told you about a website where you can get bids on your writing project.

There are a number of these “content mills,” including Upwork, Fiverr, and People Per Hour. You post an ad offering what you think is a fair deal: one cent per word, or $10 for a 1000-word article. In your ad, you specify that people only apply if they have previous experience about your subject matter. You get a ton of proposals for your project, and some applicants bid even less than the $10 you requested. You decide on one writer who sends you the finished article, and you are only out $10. You are thinking, this is great!

But in the end, have you actually made a good investment? Sure, you need to spend less and make more, but is hiring a content mill writer going to help you with that? Or is hiring a content mill writer only going to cost you more in the end?

Let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls of paying peanuts for content and articles.

Low Quality Means Low Value

Gone are the days of the immature Internet, where content was content, regardless of what it said. Google—and your potential customers—can tell a spammy site when they see one. Customers will leave your site in a flat second—and where will they go? To your competitors’ sites where they will likely find well-researched, thoughtful content that is easily readable, directed toward your specific market, and has a solid message.

With content mill writers, you will not get these benefits. You will not. Google will probably punish your low-quality, spammy-sounding posts—but even worse, so will your potential customers. Not a very good return on investment, is it?

Poor English Means Bad Content

Okay, here’s the thing. There isn’t a writer in the United States who can pay the bills on 10 bucks for a 1000-word article. So when you advertise your project on a content mill, you are more than likely going to end up hiring a writer from a foreign country where that $10 stretches a whole lot further. The problem? That person is likely not a native English speaker. What they write will be non-native English. And it will sound like a non-native English speaker wrote it.

You have a couple of choices here: Try to edit the article to make it more clear and readable. Of course, that is going to take time—time that is precious and time that you don’t have or you wouldn’t have sought out a writer to do the writing in the first place. Or you can upload the article as is. Have fun trying to rank with Google with content like that. You are also not going to impress your readers with content that isn’t clear or valuable. Again, they’ll move on to a site that provides value. Does you get what you pay for sound familiar?

Duplicate Content Means Penalties From Google

The Internet frowns on copying someone else’s content. This is called plagiarism, and Google will penalize you for it. And do you really think that when you are paying someone such a small amount of money to write a 1000-word article, they are going to research the subject and come up with a fresh view of it? Doubtful. What is more likely is that they will pull content from another website and sell it to you as their own. Or they will write one article and sell it to multiple customers. Best case? Penalties from Google. Worst case? A letter from a copyright lawyer for infringement.

Something else to keep in mind: The portfolio a writer shows you might look great, but the samples in it too could be plagiarized. This is why many people who hire writers through a content mill are shocked to discover that the article they commissioned looks nothing like the articles the writer presented as his or her own.

Spinning Does Not Mean Fresh Content

If your content mill writer doesn’t plagiarize an article, he or she will probably use a spinner instead. “Spinning” an article is when you copy and paste one into a spinner site and a new article is rewritten using synonyms. Sounds like a good idea, right? The bad news is that the content won’t be fully unique, and the worse news is that it probably won’t make sense. Here you go; try it yourself.

Keyword Stuffing Does Not Mean Improved Search Engine Rankings

Back when the Internet was a little bit newer, you could pepper any content with as many keywords as possible, and you would rank higher on search engines. But Google has gotten smart, and keyword stuffing—which is what many content mill writers will do—is a red flag. Pages that stuff keywords are looked upon unfavorably by the likes of Google updates Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird. Your readers aren’t going to care much for them either.

Engaging Content Means More Money in Your Pocket

When your website has good quality content, readers are engaged. They come back to your site over and over because they know what they read there will be entertaining, useful, and informative. They share your content with others. They subscribe to your feed. They sign up for your newsletter. Every time a person visits your website—and stays—means there is an opportunity for you to make money.

Working With a Pro Means Building a Relationship

You don’t just want to build your business’ brand with good content, but you want to build a relationship with a good content writer. The more you work with the same professional writer to build your brand, the easier it will be for that writer to come up with meaningful content that represents your business and strikes a chord with your audience. You will not only have a consistent message, but you will be able to have less of a hands-on approach with each project. This will ultimately save you time—and the good quality content will mean more money.

The bottom line: Your online presence needs a high-quality digital content strategy. You will not get that with a content mill writer. The average small business purportedly spends about 25 or 30 percent of its budget on content creation; some spend as much as 50 percent. There is a reason for this. They see a return on their investment—and they make money. So the real question you need to ask yourself is this: Can your business afford to pay peanuts for content?


Is Your Job Making You Unhealthy?

baby on laptopI love what I do, but what I don’t love is that writing has me chained to my computer much of the day. I am lucky enough to work from home so I can take breaks when needed, and I can open windows for fresh air. But if you are sitting at a desk in an office building all day every day, your job might actually be killing you.

Here are some specifics you may not have realized about how your job might be making you unhealthy:


I was shocked to find out that more than 80 percent of Americans sit all day at work. And who knew that sitting for long periods of time can actually lead to an early death? People who sit too much are at a higher risk of developing muscular skeletal disorders, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.


Are you up and out the door in the morning with nothing more than a cup of coffee? Just keep in mind that skipping breakfast is stressful on your body. And if you eat fast food for lunch, you are really increasing your risk of getting high blood pressure and developing heart disease.


We all have to do it, but breathing inside a building can expose us to a variety of unhealthy chemicals and gases. Any HVAC system spews toxic particles, mold, and bacteria into the air of a building. The Environmental Protection Agency even has a name for it: “sick building syndrome.”


If you’re like most Americans, you may well work more than 10 hours a day, which can ultimately lead to heart attack—as much as a 60 percent increase in risk. If you work odd hours, such as in the evenings, this puts you at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  Along these same lines, many people do not use their vacation time either, even though the average is a mere 10 days per year compared to a full month in many other countries.


Excessive amounts of typing—something to which most of us can relate—is a well-known reason many people develop carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful wrist strain with pain that radiates up the arm. It can be bad enough to permanently damage the nerve. Something else you may not have thought of is the danger of dirty keyboards, which are a breeding ground for nasty bacteria.

Being aware of how your job can be making you unhealthy can help you diminish some of the problems it can cause. Eating a healthy diet, getting up and moving during the day, taking plenty of breaks (including vacation), and sleeping enough are all common sense—if only we all had the sense to implement them!

Using Social Media to Build Your Business, Part III

Create the Perfect LinkedIn Company Page social media

Is your business looking for more leads? Better brand awareness? Engagement? Conversions? If you answered yes to any of the preceding questions, you need to have a social media presence, and developing that presence should be one of your first steps in creating a strategy.

Included in that umbrella term “social media strategy” are social networking sites, social new sites, blogs, real-time updates, and display ads. Each has its own value in terms of advertising your business and building relationships with customers and potential customers. For the purposes of this blog series, however, we are going to focus on three: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tap into the power that is LinkedIn by creating a page for your business. It’s an essential part of your company’s successful online presence. It can be time-consuming to do it well, however, so you may want to delegate its management to one of your team members.

Here are some tips:

Make sure your page is memorable. Use interesting, compelling graphics to feature your company’s products and services. Do some research on your target audience and what might work to help your business get noticed.

Solicit the opinions of others. Customers can provide “recommendations” on LinkedIn. These are similar to reviews, and they will be seen by those who visit the business page. It’s a great advertisement for a company and gives credibility to its products or services. The recommendation will also be shown on the writer’s page, giving your business even more exposure.

Post! Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re not actually posting your company page, what’s the point of having it? You can share items from your personal page, share company milestones, special offers, and highlights from employees. Yes, this does take some time, but it can be well worth it in the end when it comes to improving your online traffic,

Start your own LinkedIn group. Groups are one of the most valuable aspects offered by LinkedIn. They offer a way to connect with others who have similar goals. Well-run groups provide credibility to a business as well as offer a way to connect with consumers and fellow group members.

Using Social Media to Build Your Business, Part II

How to Use Twitter for Business social media

Is your business looking for more leads? Better brand awareness? Engagement? Conversions? If you answered yes to any of the preceding questions, you need to have a social media presence, and developing that presence should be one of your first steps in creating a strategy.

Included in that umbrella term “social media strategy” are social networking sites, social new sites, blogs, real-time updates, and display ads. Each has its own value in terms of advertising your business and building relationships with customers and potential customers. For the purposes of this blog series, however, we are going to focus on three: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Consistency is king when it comes to Twitter. You literally have to worm your way into people’s lives! If you are going to do this, you need to have a posting frequency that your audience expects. Whether it’s twice a week or twice a day (better, incidentally), be consistent about it so your followers know what to expect and so they are not disappointed.

So is commenting. If you want to build traffic, you have to be noticed. Don’t post and run; post and converse. Comment on “tweets” that intrigue or interest you. Retweet others. Thank others when they retweet you. Social media–and Twitter–is all about building relationships. Relationships are a two-way street; don’t forget that.

Keep in mind you cannot build a following overnight. (And it goes without saying that the “get 10,000 followers for just $29.95” type deals are completely useless.) If you want a quality circle around you, it takes time to build. Take caution when it comes to being controversial. You might get attention, but it might not be the right kind!

Consider using Twitter ads to improve engagement with customers, increase brand strength, and offer professional promotions.

You cannot operate in a vacuum–in life or on the Internet. Be unique, be interesting. Stand out from the rest of the crow. And remember–it’s all about your followers and readers. Provide them with good, interesting content and do it on a consistent basis

Using Social Media to Build Your Business, Part I 

Is your business looking for more leads? Better brand awareness? Engagement? Conversions? If you answered yes to any of the social mediapreceding questions, you need to have a social media presence, and developing that presence should be one of your first steps in creating a strategy.

Included in that umbrella term “social media strategy” are social networking sites, social new sites, blogs, real-time updates, and display ads. Each has its own value in terms of advertising your business and building relationships with customers and potential customers. For the purposes of this blog series, however, we are going to focus on three: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


How to Attract Customers With Facebook

With some 1.35 billion users, Facebook is a social network where every business can connect with its audience. It can be a bit tricky, however, to build a following on Facebook–particularly as changes continue to be regarding who will see what you post. But there are some things you can do that should help.

Make sure you have a “like” button on your website. This makes it easy for people to like your page without even having to leave your website. Ideally, you want your readers to remain focused on your website when they are there, so having the like button makes it easy to do that–while still connecting with your Facebook page.

Include your page on your personal profile on Facebook. Add your business as your employer in your personal profile in the Work and Education section. This will make it simple for those you are connected with on Facebook to become a fan of your business page. This way your Facebook page will be connected to your personal profile link on your Facebook comments.

Suggest your page to your email contacts and your Facebook friends. Facebook provides these options under the “Build Audience” menu. It can be a bit time-consuming to do this as you can’t “select all.” But it is definitely worth it to go through the process.

Get involved in conversations on other relevant pages. You can participate in conversations and like other pages as your business page. This is an excellent way to get attention for your business in front of targeted audience. If you leave interesting comments, people will start looking at your page to learn more about you, and this will translate into additional “likes” from potential customers.

Try Facebook ads. Social media advertising can be tricky, but Facebook provides you a way to really target your audience with very specific demographics. You can also promote your posts using a budget you set (say, $10, $50, or whatever else you decided). Just remember that your goal is to reach as many people as possible who are your ideal customers.

The Rules of Engagement of Social Media

social media engagementSocial media networking has been around for a while, but some people are still having trouble navigating their way through the sea of stuff that is out there. The most important thing to remember is that social media is about building relationships; it’s not about blatant self-promotion.

Here are some basic rules that will keep you playing nice:

Be selective. Choose carefully which networks you join and who you invite as a friend. If you don’t know someone personally, send a personal friend request, indicating why you would like to connect.  Stick to people who appear to share common interests and common friends with you.

Be a good listener. If you are at a real cocktail party, there are visual clues to help you know when to listen and when to speak. You don’t have that luxury online, so developing thoughtful listening skills is be a great asset.

Be involved. And add value to online conversations. Give more than you get by offering helpful comments and useful links; be free with compliments and share a bit of information about yourself.

Be responsive. It’s important to respond to feedback or questions in a timely manner. Don’t stop the flow of conversation.

Be generous. Social media works best when you are generous with your knowledge and expertise. Self-promotion should not be your first goal.

Don’t be overly promotional. It bears repeating here: Social media is about building relationships. It’s okay to promote your products and services on occasion, but that should not be your primary focus. Announcing your book is fine; sending spammy messages on a daily basis about your book is not.

Be yourself. Being genuine is critical to any successful social media marketing campaign. Find your audience, listen to them, provide value to the conversation, don’t spam, and be yourself to get the most positive results. Don’t try to be something or someone you’re not.

Be consistent. This holds true not only among your social media profiles, but the persona you are online should match who you are in real life. Don’t send mixed messages!

3 Tips for Using Pinterest to Boost Your Ranking in Search Engines

Pinterest continues to gain momentum in terms of companies using it successfully to market themselves. Companies are becoming Pinterestaware that Pinterest is a great tool when it comes to raising brand awareness and driving traffic to a company’s website. In this article, we’ll focus on how building link opportunities with Pinterest can help optimize your website or blog for the search engines.

If you’ve been blogging or have even just had a website for a while, you are aware of the importance of links. The more links you have, and the better the authority of those links, the better chance you have of ranking higher in the search engines. It’s kind of a no-brainer. If you have a link from the HuffingtonPost, obviously that will have more value than a link from another blog that doesn’t get much traffic.

Here are three ways you can build links by using Pinterest:

  1. Find guest blogging opportunities. There has been some negative press about guest blogging recently, but when you do it correction, it still has great search engine optimization (SEO) benefits. Pinterest makes it easy because you can take a look at the categories section and easily find topics that will fit your industry. Once you plug in your search, you can quickly scan pins to see what might be a good match. You are looking for websites that are authoritative and that also offer opportunities to guest blog.
  1. Find sites to host a giveaway. Giving away your products gives you amazing potential to reach your target audience by tapping into the sites they frequent. In order to enter the contest, users will have to like, share, and tweet about the product being given away–all of which results in reaching a wider audience. It is likely that the blogs that will host these giveaways will also cross-promote on Pinterest. Again you’ll want to use the search feature on Pinterest. This time look up “giveaway” and then “giveaway” plus your targeted phrase.
  1. Analyze competitive links. If you’re using Pinterest for business, it’s likely your competitors are too. Pinterest has a feature that allows you to find pins that come from a specific domain. You will be able to instantly see the images that have been pinned from your competitor’s site (and your own!) using the “source” feature on Pinterest. This will allow you to assess the kind of content they are sharing and getting others to share. Not only will this give you ideas for your own business, but you could discover some of the top “influencers” on Pinterest that could help you increase the reach of the items you pin.

Pinterest is more than just a virtual bulletin board of pretty pictures; it can actually work to help your business gain momentum in the search engine rankings race!