What actually happens when a content farm steals your handmade content

Today I want to talk about something that very regularly affects writers, beauty bloggers and photography bloggers, and occasionally affects travel bloggers too: Content theft. How does it happen and what can you do about it?

I am a moderate traffic website; according to both Amazon and Alexa, I am not yet in the big leagues (I’m in the top 1,000,000 websites, but so are 999,999 other sites). I do have some very good SEO, however, and I score first result on the first page of Google for at least 10 different search terms, because I work very hard to make my content relevant to what people are searching for. Because of this, I’m not blind to the crappy games some other sites play so they can rank higher in Google.

The past two days, however, my single most popular article has taken a nosedive. My traffic has plummeted and I have lost more than a hundred visitors a day. When investigating this, I discovered that a content-farm type website has basically stolen my top ranking article, reworded it and dumbed it down, and posted it on their site. They aren’t ranking above me, but they’ve got enough relevance that they’ve taken some of my traffic away. The thing is, despite the fact they’ve directly paraphrased my article, and added in some photoshopped snazzy pictures (that they also haven’t attributed), they’ve not actually said where they got it from. And they haven’t asked me if they could steal my stuff.

content theft statistics
Picture showing my most popular page; this page was most popular, day in day out, for months.
content theft how to tell
The stats for the blue circles page have increased, proving this shouldn’t have been a “quiet day.” It’s only my most popular page that’s been affected, and all the other stats were just the usual day-to-day fluctuations. That’s how I knew it was probably a content theft issue.

I get by solely on my income from this website and from the books I write (on my author website). This website (Delight and Inspire) generates 20-100% of my income on any given month. Needless to say, I don’t make much money. So when someone steals my personally researched and written articles, changes a few words to get past Google’s duplication penalties, and, by proxy, prevents visitors from finding my site, it makes me feel worried. If people took every article from my site and did that, I’d have no income. It would be like someone putting the PDF of my books on torrent sites, and it’s obviously not a nice feeling.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about it because they haven’t just copied and pasted my work. So this is an exercise in pragmatism more than a solution. I am usually not remotely precious about copyright, and when people email me, asking if they can, for example, translate my articles into Italian, I am usually happy that the information is getting shared. But that’s the difference. The cool Italian guy asked, and I knew they were using my content in that way, and I’m happy with the result, which is that Italians can now read that information in their own language. I now get 1-2 emails a week from Italians trying to cross the Bering Strait (true story). Generally, I think sharing information is the way forward.

When someone does it without acknowledging the source material, however, they’re just trying to make themselves look good with other people’s hard work. And that’s not ok. I would bet money that the person who stole my content was paid by the content farm for “creating” my content. But since half the internet is run by automatic bots and computers these days, with little user generated interaction on sites like Livestrong (a content farm), there’s no-one I can contact about this issue (normally, you can contact someone and ask for the page to be taken down or attributed).

So after the initial infuriation has worn off, I am left with the truth of the situation. Someone stole my stuff, they fooled Google (and whoever paid them to “write” it) and my income has been affected. I cannot do anything about it, so I can either go crazy (crazier) with rage and fury at this daylight robbery and turn into a pathetic dribbling ball of tears, or I can choose to let it go.

Imma let it go, and looking to the future, I’m going to try to ensure that I keep producing fresh, relevant content for my readers that ensures I always rank first on Google for other things. Like my lip plumpers review or my eyelash serum comparison reviews that I have written.

How have you dealt with copyright theft? Let me know in the comments!

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Tripod or No Tripod?

In this article, I want to discuss the question: tripod or no tripod?  Should I use a tripod for photography?  The above picture is what happens when you don’t use a tripod on a long exposure.

“A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.”
– Brigitte Bardot

Tripods are a three legged stand that you can attach your camera to, so it stays put on the tripod.  They are very useful for a range of photography and video situations.  I’ve done several Youtube videos that wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod, because they stray from my usual camera setup, but I rarely use the tripod for photography.  Should I use my tripod more?  It got me thinking about when is an appropriate situation to use a tripod, and when they’re just a faff.  Here I want to share my thoughts about when it’s a good idea to use a tripod, and when it’s better to not bother.  Add your own thoughts in the comments!

Pro’s of using a tripod:

1. They steady the camera.
If getting those horizontal and vertical lines is a challenge for you, then the spirit level on your tripod can be a fantastic tool, because you can just adjust the legs until you get a perfectly level picture.  A lot of lenses these days have image stabilization but nothing beats a good tripod.  I’ve said it before, but if you know how to take a good picture first time, it saves a lot of lost opportunities.
2. Your hands don’t get tired.
Holding a camera in an awkward position while you wait for the subject to get arranged can really tire your hands out – and hand shake is the enemy of a good picture.
3. Essential for longer exposures e.g. astrophotography.
You literally cannot hold a camera still enough to get 30 second photos of space, unless you don’t have a heartbeat.
4. You can spend more time setting up the shot to make sure it’s perfect.
If your camera has a movable viewfinder, you can leave the camera in place and check whether everything you’ve arranged is in-shot.
5. You can learn how to compose the perfect shot.
This will probably improve the quality of your future pictures.  Pictures taken with tripods tend to come out either very static or very dynamic.  There’s no way to really compose the perfect dynamic shot (e.g. sports pictures) because the subject is generally moving independently of the photographer’s control, but for static shots, having a tripod can help you practise framing and using different focus techniques (for example) on the exact same shot to see what works and what doesn’t.
6. You can use the 10 second (or longer) self timer
This enables people to take pictures, and get a good shot without needing anyone to hold the camera, e.g. for family portraits.

Con’s of using a tripod:

1. They add weight to your setup.  Especially the ones that extend enough for you to stand up straight whilst using them – when you add a dolly (wheels) you’re looking at even more weight, and soon you’re going to need a trolley to cart it all around.  There’s a reason cameramen tend to have very strong arms!
2. They add money to your photography expenses.  Granted, you can pick up a tripod for pretty cheap on Amazon, but it’s still another thing to pay for, on top of all the other things you’ve already paid for, and some people simply don’t have the money for a tripod.
3. The ones for outdoor shots tend to be bulky.  The flimsy cheap ones can blow over easily (or get knocked over) if you’re not careful because they’re too top-heavy; would you risk a $1000 (often significantly more) camera and lens combo on a $20 badly made tripod?
4. You can get lazy in your composition
This comes from not snapping pictures whilst holding the camera, and it can lead to poorer quality pictures without the tripod.  Some pro-tripod people don’t even believe it’s possible to get good pictures without using a tripod!

Conclusion:

I have just one tripod, a medium sized one of moderately good build, but I think there’s a time and a place for using it – I generally use it in my house or for astrophotography, as I said.  When it warms up, I’ll start using it for infrared photography as well.  I’ve never taken it up a mountain with me and I’m not sure I ever would (although who knows what the future holds).  I’d like to play around with it more, but the weight is off putting because my camera setup is already fairly hefty.

What do you think?  When do you use your tripod?  Are there any times when you would say it’s essential?

Help! Rabbits Ate My Grass! How to Fix Your Lawn

Rabbit Care: How to Fix the Lawn

When the wooden bit was the entire run, we didn't have any problems moving it every three weeks to keep the lawn growing.
When the wooden bit was the entire run, we didn’t have any problems moving it every three weeks to keep the lawn growing.

So you got yourself a little pair of flufflets and you’ve put them outside during the day in a safe rabbit run or bunnyproofed garden so they can play and explore a new environment. The only thing is, they’ve ruined your lawn.

Why it matters:

Even if you don’t care about having a prize lawn, you need to care about fixing your lawn before it all dies because your rabbits will have nothing to nibble in their run if they’ve overgrazed all the grass. It takes surprisingly few rabbits to kill a lawn, as I’ve found out over winter. Even if they’re swimming in hay and straw, they still have a strong urge to graze outdoors.

What to do about it:

In the first instance, constantly moving the rabbit run around the lawn to stop overgrazing. Do it before the rabbits are playing in a patch of barren mud, so the grass has a chance of growing back.

If it’s happened over a longer period of time, or your rabbits don’t have enough grass to avoid it, or if your run is particularly large, or if it’s winter and all the grass couldn’t keep up with what the rabbits were eating (they don’t hibernate), you will probably need to look at replacing your lawn.

Having five rabbits, I like to ensure that the three outdoor ones have 24/7 access to their play area because they don’t keep the same circadian rhythms as humans (the thing that makes animals and people wake up or go to sleep), so they like to play out at odd times of the day. This means all of our lawn (which is half of our garden) has been a bunny village since August last year, when we used the panels of modular rabbit run to divide up the lawn for our bunnies. The two biggest outdoor bunnies have over winter had two thirds of the garden because the house rabbits haven’t wanted to go out at all. This means that Katie, who is above average size (but not giant) has overgrazed those two thirds of the lawn and the grass is all dead.

If this happens, you have two options:

1. Buy pre-made turf

Generally this option is only available in late spring/summer. Garden centres sell little patches of turf that you can unroll onto your lawn, stamp down, and water until it takes root and it should just keep growing. A good choice if it’s the right time of year and you need grass fast. The cons are that it’s fairly expensive to cover a garden, and it takes some time to get it to establish, and there’s no guarantee of quality; usually it’s better if you can get it first thing in the morning because by evening the rolls of turf tend to look like hay.

2. Buy grass seed

This is the hardest option, takes ages to work, but sometimes it’s your only choice. There’s no turf for sale anywhere near my house at the moment so I had to buy grass seed. I scarified the lawn by getting a garden fork and digging it into the soil, and turning it over to aerate the soil (which has become quite compacted). It’s always funny to me that grass seems content to grow in places with no soil where you don’t want it, but seems to have a hard time growing in its ideal conditions. I planted my seeds 6 weeks ago now. They were supposed to be a lawn by now because I bought fast growing seed. After 2 weeks, I got three metres by three metres of nothing. Not only that, but my rabbits are peeved that they can’t go into half of their rabbit run at the moment because I closed it off to ensure the seed had the best chance of growth. After 4 weeks, we got some sparse stubble – I would say about 40% of the seeds I planted actually sprouted. After 5 weeks, we’ve got some longer sparse stubble. But no more of the seeds have sprouted, and I still can’t let the bunnies on it because it’s not looking edible yet. I did make the mistake of trying to get them out there between week 3 and week 4, as some grass grew in, although I think it was just the original lawn reanimating itself into patchy zombie grass, but when they went out there was nothing edible. There’s still a lot of ungerminated grass seed sitting around in the soil.

Things I’ve learned about grass seed:

1. It makes your hands green.

2. It just sits there. It doesn’t even try to grow. How it’s survived as a dominant, hardy species I don’t know.

3. You need to rake it into the soil, and you need to stamp it down, and your garden looks awful while its growing.

4. You need to water it regularly while its growing. I am literally using about 5 buckets of water (2 gallon buckets) on that lawn every second day (you can’t water it in the sun so you have to wait until it’s shady, and I tend to forget) and I HATE wasting so much water but it’s the only way to get the stupid stuff to grow.

5. It doesn’t remotely grow at the density that you planted it at. I would say only 40% of the seeds I covered the lawn with have grown through as grass.

6. The rabbits will not stop chewing it at a reasonable point, they will eat it down to the soil, so to enable it to grow back, you have to stop them going near it until it’s growing in and ready to eat.

Whatever you do, it’s going to be expensive and time consuming, so as I’ve learned the hard way, the best thing to do is get the rabbits off the grass over winter so it stands a chance of growing back in time for spring. If you have little runs, moving them around the lawn is a good answer. Unfortunately, if like me you gave the bunnies the entire lawn to play on, you will need to monitor the situation carefully to make sure they don’t bite off more than they can chew.  But hey, look on the plus side – now you have rabbits, you will probably never need to mow the lawn again!