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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Two Unbelievable German Fairytale Castles.

By all accounts, Ludwig II was a mad king.  Of course, madness is subjective, but most people agree that it’s a bit off the wall to build yourself a fantastic fairytale castle, then spend your kingdom’s vast fortune to build another one across the way, just so you have something nice to look at from your own, fabulous castle.  It’s even more ridiculous to hear that Ludwig II married a girl, then moved her into the other castle.  I’m sure that made for interesting sex, sending a messenger on the forty minute walk to ask: “Your castle or mine?” Only to receive a reply, eighty minutes later: “Oh, not tonight darling, I have a headache.”  May as well save oneself the effort and grab a villager instead.  Perhaps this explains why Hohenschwangau castle (often mistakenly called Hohenschwanstein castle) was quite near to the village of Schwangau and Neuschwanstein castle was way off in the distance.  Old Mrs Ludwig II couldn’t exactly complain if she couldn’t see anything that her husband was doing.  Perhaps if Henry VIII had adopted this two-castles-on-two-mountainsides approach, he could have saved himself all the nuisance of having to dispose of unwanted wives after the warranty period.

But he didn’t think of it.

In Britain, we never really consider Henry VIII a mad king, perhaps because he knew which end the crown was supposed to go on, and didn’t roam Buckingham Palace in his nightwear, and anyway, when he was compared to Charles I (who was so despotic, he caused the only English civil war) or George III (who figuratively wore his underpants on his head), he gets a free pass.  I think it comes down to the fact that, historically, we have tended to respect the institution of marriage a little too much.  Henry VIII was married to each of the six women who he wronged, but that’s fine because he married them.  If, as a bachelor, he had treated just one of those women properly but not married her, that would have been a scandal.  But beheading two wives?  That was reasonable, because he was married to them at the time.  I think the other reason we don’t remember any of our kings as properly, truly mad (rather than just bloody stupid), is because we’ve never had a proper despot on the throne.  Add to that the fact that we still have a monarchy and the Germans don’t, and it’s perhaps easier to see why the Germans embrace the madness of their erstwhile monarchy and open it up for tourists to see at low low prices (Austria’s got the market pretty well cornered on this too, but I’ll come to that in another article).

Ludwig II is suggested to have schizotypal personality disorder for which there is evidence from his autopsy – he died in 1886 under highly mysterious circumstances the day after he was dethroned for extremely paranoid behavior.  Fascinatingly, he was claimed to have drowned and it was recorded as a suicide, but he was known to be a good swimmer and there was no water in his lungs.  Add to that the further mystery that his psychiatric doctor was with him at the time – and the doctor was found dead with head and neck wounds and markings concurrent with strangulation.

There are plenty of things in Germany which are spectacular, or ludicrous, or despotic, but nothing in Germany is quite as spectacularly, ludicrously, despotically fabulous as the twin castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.  We were so taken by them that we actually went to see them twice.

The drive was painful in both directions due to bad traffic around Munich.  We parked in Fussen for a breather and that was when we saw the first of the two castles.  I’ve been told by quite a few people that Schloss Hohenschwangau is supposed to be the best one, but Schloss Neuschwanstein was the first one I saw and it captured my imagination far more.  It was fit for a princess.  It looked like a Disney castle.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a castle that was quite so… well… castley.  If someone distilled pure essence of castle and made a castle out of it, Neuschwanstein would be the result.  This castle belonged to every Disney Princess who ever lived.

Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany; taken from Fussen.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein as seen from Schwangau.

We didn’t go inside either castle because (on the way to Salzburg) by the time we’d fought our way through traffic they were both closed for the day.  The same thing happened when we drove here on the way back from Rome, so I’ve not seen first-hand what they look like inside, but when they look like this from the outside, I can’t wait until we actually get to go in.  Photography is not allowed inside the castles.

Castle Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, August 2014.
Castle Hohenschwangau, aka Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, Taken August 2014.

The castles look even better in real life and I think they were well worth the  effort of driving here even though we didn’t go inside – I don’t think there’s anything like them to be found side-by-side like this anywhere else in the world.

Make it Happen:

There’s two parts to this – getting to Schwangau and then getting to the actual castles.  Once you’re in Schwangau the rest is pretty damn easy (as long as you DON’T mistakenly go to SCHWANAU which is 3 HOURS AWAY from where the fairytale castles are).

Getting to Schwangau:

  1. Fly to Munich airport then hire a car, accommodation is best in Fussen which also has a much better selection of restaurants and bars than Schwangau.
  2. Drive straight to Schwangau from your home address – this is what I did, it took two full driving days and one overnight stay in a layby in central Germany to get here after 5pm from the North of England.
  3. By public transport it’s really sketchy, which is why I never got here on my Interrail trip – basically Schwangau is a little bit remote and doesn’t have it’s own train station.  There is a direct train from Munich to Fussen which takes 2 hours 6 minutes, then you’re on your own to get to Schwangau (Google says it’s a 45 minute walk or a 12 minute cycle – so if you’re reasonably fit and mobile you can probably walk it in under 30 minutes; it wasn’t far at all by car), but if you’re willing to get a taxi this is another option from Fussen.  I can’t find bus info.

Getting to the Castles from Schwangau:

  1. Hohenschwangau is a very easy stroll from the centre of Schwangau.
  2. Neuschwanstein is slightly less accessible, you can take a 45 minute walk if you’re feeling sporty.
  3. The more common option to get to Neuschwanstein is to take the tourist buses (run by private companies) which costs about E2.60 there and back again.  I think there’s still some walking involved and the buses are unsuitable for disabled people due to the terrain between where the bus stops and getting into the castle.
  4. The most awesome option by far to get to Neuschwanstein is to take a horse drawn carriage, at E6 there and E3 back again.  There is a 15 minute uphill walk from where the carriage drops you off.  If you’re feeling especially fancy, you can also ride in a carriage to Hohenschwangau castle for E4.50 there and E2 back again.
  5. Entrance to the two castles on a twin ticket was 9am-6pm (summer) or 10am-4pm (winter) and cost E12 each or E23 for a combined ticket.  For more information click here.

Disabled, Wheelchair and Pushchair Access:
You can’t drive to the entrances, the closest parking is in Schwangau village centre which costs about E5, or there’s free parking even further down the hill in two large lay-bys. Neuschwanstein appears to sadly be generally unsuitable for wheelchair users or people with mobility-related disabilities due to its design (although some people have had success getting around, I think this has to be taken as the exception; if you’re planning a trip for a busload of pensioners, you’ll have to give Neuschwanstein a miss, but if you push your own wheelchair and you’ve got someone to help out on the hilly bits, you will be able to get around enough to see some of Neuschwanstein). Pushchairs can get to Neuschwanstein but if you’re not reasonably fit you will be utterly shattered afterwards.  If you have an invisible disability such as CFS or MS you may have extreme difficulty with Neuschwanstein because the bus queues are a lot of standing around waiting and the walk is hilly with no real breaks; if you’re having a low-energy day, I’d skip Neuschwanstein and go for Hohenschwangau instead.  Hohenschwangau on the other hand appears to be reasonably accessible if you can make it up the much gentler hill to the entrance (but if in doubt, double check this when you buy tickets, because everyone’s level of ability is different) and pushchairs are no problem at Hohenschwangau.  Everything I saw of both castles and Schwangau village was hills rather than steps.

For accommodation I strongly suggest you avoid the expensive hotels of Schwangau and instead stay in the beautiful large village of Fussen, as there is much more choice, it’s a bigger town and there’s lots of cheaper options and more amenities.  If arriving by train, staying in Fussen will also break up the journey a bit.  I found the absolute best selection of accommodation from Booking.com but do book early as it’s a popular but relatively undeveloped area, and when we were travelling to Schwangau/Fussen from Rome, I tried to book us a hotel for 2 days ahead but the cheapest options that were left started at 150 Euros which was out of my price range (this was September prices).  By contrast, there are currently options for mid-August available starting at £43 for two people, which is obviously a significant saving.  By comparison, for the same example date (12-13th August) hotels in Schwangau start at £93 per night for mid-August if you book now.

Has anyone else been to see these fabulous castles?  Let me know what you thought in the comments.

If you’re looking for more info on disabled access of major tourist destinations, I’ve also written about which parts of Rome were wheelchair accessible.

More info about ticketing etc here.

This article contains affiliate links, it doesn’t affect the prices you pay for anything, and if you choose to book accommodation from links on this page it just means I can buy food and petrol and all that lovely stuff (which gives me more time to write articles like this one).

A Little Clarification About My Blog:

1. I don’t get free lipstick and I am not PR friendly (I don’t work with any  brands).

2. I have never published a paid post on my blog.

3. I write about whatever the damn hell I please.  My remit is joy and understanding, these are the purpose of my blog; sometimes other stuff for variety.

4. When that meshes with talking about a product I bought that actually worked to solve a problem I had, I drop an Amazon link so I can get a commission for matching people’s problems with solutions.  It doesn’t affect the price you pay and comes from their profit.  I am a member of Amazon Associates USA, as I have stated in both my “about me” and “contact me” pages, and referred to in a number of posts.  I have been using Amazon Associates for 21 days so far, since about 11pm (my time) on New Year’s Eve, and so far it’s netted me about $10 which is about £6.  At the end of February I will re-evaluate whether I feel this has been a successful venture or whether I’m keeping my association with Amazon.

5. I currently ONLY have links to Amazon Associates USA on my four most popular blog posts.  All other links to Amazon (e.g. pictures of rabbit hutches) are just normal links and I don’t earn money from them.  I felt this was ethical.  I never link to a product I haven’t paid for and found useful.  If it doesn’t meet both of these criteria, I don’t link to it.

6. Amazon and Amazon Associates have literally no control over my creative content (I’m not sure they’ve ever seen it) and I do not now, nor have I ever, written posts with the sole purpose of making money from affiliate links.  All the articles that currently have links in them are articles that I wrote many months ago, I wrote them to help people, and they have been here on my site for all that time with NO AFFILIATE LINKS.  Then one day I decided to run an experiment to see how well Amazon Associates USA worked with my current traffic compared to how well it had worked over a sample time period about six months ago (when there were zero clickthroughs i.e. I made absolutely no money) when I had significantly less traffic.

7. I will write an article with my recommendations/otherwise about Amazon Associates USA when I have had enough time to fully evaluate it.  I have no British affiliate links or links for any other country because 97% of my traffic comes from America, from search engine queries (I did some math today).

8. I am planning on charging people to post their links or infographics on my site as of next month, because quite frankly I don’t want to post 99% of the links and infographics people email me about, and I thought this would make people think about whether their link was really appropriate to my blog before contacting me.  I have made this clear on my contact me page.  All links currently on my blog are ones I found myself and I will make it clear if/when I accept payment for any link or infographic.  I will also still be just as selective.

9. I also make money whenever anyone buys a copy of any of my books, although I do not use Amazon Associates affiliate links to promote these as I feel that would be a conflict of interest.  I make money from book sales via royalties paid by my publishers.  As far as I am aware, none of my blog readers have bought copies of any of my books and it doesn’t bother me one bit.

The whole point of yesterday’s article was to try to tell new bloggers, particularly those wanting to start a beauty blog, that there’s another way to blog.  That they don’t have to copy what everyone else does, they don’t have to accept free products in exchange for their integrity.

I want the internet to shift it’s balance in favour of talented and thoughtful content creators instead of people writing any old crap to make a quick buck or get a free lipstick, and I was trying to say that, if you’re creative, you can find other ways to monetize your site, and you can find other definitions of success beyond how much money/how many followers/how much free stuff you get.  The success of helping people or explaining something they didn’t know, or bringing joy to someone else’s life, were specific examples I can think of.

I have since yesterday been contacted by several individuals asking me how I work with PR people, do they tell me what to say etc etc.  I will reiterate:

I have never worked with a PR company or written a post about a product in exchange for either a free product or any sort of payment or discounted product.  I do not let PR companies draw my attention to products either.  I wrote before about why I don’t do this and how I feel it biases the sample (of products being reviewed online) unfairly in favour of companies with the biggest promotional budget.

I hope that clears things up so we can get back to normal because I got a new bunny last night and he is awesome and I wanted to post bunny pictures today but felt I needed to clear this up first.

I would like to also assert that I do not get paid by my rabbits to talk about them.

New bunny timmy1