Let the Buyer Beware

As you may or may not know, my main business is as a writer. Much of my business has come from people I have met online through forums and from folks who simply found my business website and liked what they saw. A number of my customers speak English as a second or even third language. The longer that I’ve known them, I can see many of their vocabulary and grammar skills improving. Perhaps it was my knowledge of this person’s language skills that first triggered warning bells but I think it was truly more than that.

I was looking at the blog of a friend of one of my customers. While not on a topic I normally read about online or have clients who want writing for; the topic of the post seemed interesting. The entry was quite well-written. I didn’t take long to realize that it was too well-written. A quick search on Google and sure enough, it was indeed quite well-written – by someone else. And that someone else worked for MicroSoft and the original article appeared on the MSN Money website.

The worst part of all of this was that this friend of my customer had actually paid someone to write this article for them. I haven’t heard the outcome, but I suspect the friend is not going to have much luck getting a refund.

With that in mind, I thought I might share a little bit about why the article in question caused me to suspect it was indeed stolen content.

  1. The grammar of the title was atrocious while the body of the article had English-teacher approved perfect grammar.
  2. The grammar of the title was similar to the manner of speaking and turn of phrase common to non-native English speakers.
  3. The article included a number of quotations from industry experts across the country. As much as I and many others pride themselves on writing quality content – it often takes a nationally recognized reporter/writer to get access to some of the people quoted in the article.
  4. It read like something you would hear on the evening news – again making it appear as something beyond the skills of the average blog owner, particularly one for whom English was not their native language.
  5. There was no bloggieness about it. Bloggieness (yes, a word I just made up) is that conversational, first person type of writing that is common with most blogs. This article was very matter-of-fact and while it kept the reader’s attention it was more like an essay on the topic than a conversation.

It’s my hope that this article may get people who are purchasing written content or any other web content to evaluate who they are hiring and what they are being given.

Were I to hire a content writer, I would certainly run a few sentences through the search engines to see if anything turns up prior to posting the content on my site and paying for it (assuming the writer provided the content prior to payment). And gee whiz folks, check something besides just the title – that was the only thing that was different in this case. After all, changing the title is the quickest and easiest thing for a content thief to change.

If I paid for the content via PayPal, I would immediately take whatever steps are required to get a chargeback. (Better be quick as many of these folks quickly drain their accounts and don’t carry a balance that PayPal can refund to you.)

It’s such a gamble paying someone for any sort of web services. The tremendous size of the Internet alone makes it easy for unscrupulous people to take advantage and steal from others. In this case, I admit that I am somewhat surprised by the audacity of the theft as it was so obvious and the content originated on a site belonging to one of the largest companies in the world. Can’t say if I were in the content stealing business that I would even consider stealing from MicroSoft.

Since web services are not uniformly priced or based on quality there are unfortunately no hard and fast solutions to this type of thing. There are some wonderful writers who due to where they live are able to charge very little for quality work. Unfortunately, there are many web writers who charge very little because they do very little. The person who purchased this article would have been much better off writing their own articles even if it was not grammar-perfect.

Anyway, these are just a few things to look for when purchasing content for your website. As with the real world when spending your hard-earned money – caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

A few suggestions for further reading...

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