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Sun 31 Jan 2016 03:11 PM

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What to do when somebody copies your website

After building a unique website, the team behind medical tourism start-up, Medigo, discovered someone was taking advantage of their hard work. Chief product officer and co-founder, Ieva Soblickaite, and head of content, Florence Collins, explain what they did when they found out their website was being copied

What to do when somebody copies your website
Ieva Soblickaite, chief product officer and co-founder at Medigo.

For close to two years, we’ve been building a website that never existed before, built with original ideas, design, content, and lots of love for our users.

Since healthcare is all the rage in the start-up world, it wasn’t too surprising that other players with the same business model started popping up, and some were taking way too much ‘inspiration’ from us.

So we decided to ask ourselves: what’s the best way to deal with copycat websites?

Here are a few things we came up with.

Above: Florence
Collins, Head of content at Medigo.

Make sure you’ve actually been copied

There are lots of things you can’t own, and ideas are one of them. Style, web element, and content buried in the user funnel is also much more difficult to claim ownership of, compared to your onsite copy and images.

A free and easy way to see if your content has already been stolen, is to search for your unique copy in Google and check for exact matches. You can also use tools such as Google’s search by image or Tineye’s reverse image search, which can identify even heavily edited versions of your images. If you have found a copycat, be sure to document your findings. Take screenshots with timestamps and keep a log of the plagiarism you find.

Don’t lose sleep

Copying happens all the time. Google knows about plagiarism and will penalise the copycats for indexing duplicate content at a later date. Many copycats are harmless, but there is the risk that users will find a copycat site and believe that it is the real deal. So while you don’t have to stay awake at night, you should assess their threat level.

Figure out who copied you and why

Generally speaking, there are two types of copycats: opportunists and villains.

Opportunists are usually one or two man operations with no clue about what they have gotten themselves into. They make no market research, slam-copy your entire website and wait for users to come to them. Opportunists usually create an impressive-looking MVP in order to seek funding, but lack the skills, network, and experience to pull anything more serious off. Any innovative site (AirBnB is a good example) will have hundreds of opportunist copycats.

The villains are a smaller but much more dangerous group of copycats. They tend to be highly strategic, and analyse many start-ups in detail, assessing the market or even gathering insider information before deciding on the most promising ones to copy. A group of smart business and tech people with a dubious business ethic assemble the founders like a boy band around a pop song. Victim in sight, the in-house product manager analyses the user funnel and leads an external agency to build a site.

It might not look exactly like yours, but you can immediately recognise your ideas, elements, and definitions. These companies generally have a proper seed investment and a decent chance of getting an A-round.

Talk about it

Contact the site and politely ask them to remove the content that you own. On some occasions they will apologise and even feign ignorance. One site owner we contacted blamed the developer for stealing content - which showed they had no content strategy whatsoever. If they don’t respond, you can contact the site’s host and ask them to remove the site.

If still having problems, some jurisdictions offer further help. For example, in many countries you can file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint. This is commonly used by big companies for violations such as torrenting, but could also work for you as well.

Have fun with scrapers

If you are afraid your content is being scraped, you might want to check out some software solutions offering scraping ‘protection’ or mitigation. There’s Cloudflare’s Scrape Shield but also some other companies who offer similar things.

If you have time and resources, you could manipulate the scrapers into scraping a tweaked version of the site. It’s usually the slapdash Opportunists who get caught out, who make use of your nonsensical content without checking it beforehand.

Stay ahead of the copycats

This is particularly true for smart villain copycats. Check to see if they have any competitive advantages, and make sure to stay ahead.

Monitor your site for abnormal traffic spikes. Smarter scrapers use proxies and incognito modes to get your content, but you can still keep an eye on Google Analytics pageviews traffic, spiked request activity, and logs. You might actually know exactly who is scraping your website by checking where their IP address is registered. And some scrapers are just plain sloppy.

You can also outsource your copycat monitoring. Copyscape offers a service called Copysentry which scans the web daily for copied content. It is a good idea to monitor the less blatant copycats.  These are usually the smarter villains, who steal your concept and style but go easy on the images and copy. To check for new sites, set up a few Google Alerts for your top keywords.

Finally, remember that a company is more than the website. It’s also your team, the relationships that you’ve built with your users, your network of partners, and the lessons you have learnt along the way. The components that someone can copy are just the very tip of the iceberg, and without the underwater structural support, they are likely to melt away.

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