Being a content creator today is weird. There are things you can do, as a writer today, that would have never happened twenty+ years ago when I was learning how to be a writer. How you research content is different (thanks Google) and how you use content is different. It’s even okay to re-use content, if you do it right.
Coming up in this business, originality meant everything. When you wanted to say something that someone else already said, you found someone to quote on the subject to keep it original. If you were sharing facts, you never looked at how someone else presented them, you figured it out on your own.
In some ways, these tenets to writing still ring true, but their lines aren’t as firm.
It was a big change for me the first time I was given an assignment and then basically told to make it look like this other piece that already existed, but it happens now. Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle requests like this, so here’s how I get the work done.
IT’S OKAY TO REPURPOSE WITHIN THE SAME BRAND
I have a client who provides content to many other clients as part of their overall service. Most of their clients are local brands who would never overlap. They offer the same product within their own niche. As a result, I’m often asked to write the same piece (topically speaking) for multiple businesses.
I don’t see this as a problem since: A. None of this content is keyword-based or for SEO tracking and B. None of these pieces will compete with each other.
Often, my client will even give me a reference piece to work off of. If it’s something they’ve initially published, I’ll usually let it inspire me more than if it’s an outside source. I will let it slide if information ends up in the same order, and I’ll reuse source links.
I won’t, however copy chunks, rearrange them, and pass it off as a new piece of content. There are some things you simply cannot do, even in this situation.
NEVER REUSE YOUR OWN CONTENT VERBATIM
And, the biggest line to stay on the correct side of is — never reusing any content verbatim. Aside from it being lazy, if ever one of your clients saw the same chunk of content from their site, on someone else’s, they’d probably be annoyed enough to stop working with you. In my particular situation, I would never deliver a batch of content to a client that copies itself word-for-word in any way. Yes, all my headers my hit the same topic, but they’ll be worded differently, because let’s face it, if you’re a good writer, you can say the same thing a dozen different ways (and you know how to use a Thesaurus.)
When in a situation where it’s appropriate to repurpose content, you must change up the wording. My best trick is to regroup content and add at least one totally different thing to each iteration of a topic. Sometimes, I’ll take two subheads and pull that content into one, or break sections apart. Sometimes I’ll take a section and rework it so it looks like it’s addressing a totally different issue or idea.
I make sure to never have the same list of subheads on each piece, so I either take something away or add something new each time I rewrite. And, if I know I’m going to write say, three versions of a piece, I’ll do all the research at once and then pick and choose what goes into each version in order to keep things different.
IT’S NOT OKAY TO PLAGIARIZE
You can’t copy what you see from one source and claim it as your own. This means, if you’re given an assignment and the client says to make it look like a piece from their competitor, you imitate without copying. Mimic their tone, but change the organization of the piece. Focus on the same facts, but do some extra research to add in a little something different.
The goal is to never have your piece of content look like anybody else’s. You want to protect your own writing as much as they will want to protect theirs.
My trick, in instances like these, is to refer heavily to the reference materials I’m given, but then search out other existing content on the topic. What does it look like? How does it compare? If I can find three somewhat different pieces on the same topic and combine all the good points each piece makes, I’m creating a more robust original piece of content to put out there. Now people searching the internet won’t need to look at three different articles to get their information; they can just read mine.
DON’T QUTOE AN ARTICLE WITHOUT QUOTING A SOURCE
It’s also important to be careful about where you lift facts from. If I find an article that provides statistics from a survey, I go and find that survey, check it out myself, and decide how I want to work it into my piece. I can usually find a different statistic to highlight, so although I didn’t find the source myself, I’m still personalizing how I interact with it.
WHY PEOPLE ARE ASKING YOU TO DO THIS
Even though this request may seem foreign to you, and feel a little icky, asking a writer today to essentially repurpose content or “copy” something else has a reason. With SEO being “the thing” to get your content to show up high in a list of search results, it’s often what drives the topics a brand wants to cover. They need to beat out their competitors, and will often look at the highest ranking content connected to specific keywords and go on the attack.
The mentality is that if an article is doing well, and you write about the same thing, but do it better, you’ll beat them. This is kind of true, but keywords are more tricky than that, and knowing how to use them correctly within your own content can really increase the value of your piece.
IN THE END, DO WHAT FEELS RIGHT
When it comes to requests to repurpose content, you really need to do what feels right to you. If you’re working on content that’s all within a brand, you have more leeway to reuse, but try to always put a unique spin on content. If a client is asking you to emulate something they didn’t create, take inspiration, but don’t feel like you can’t go out on your own and create something better.
Remember, content will always be king, no matter what anyone says, but it’s important for you to remain an individual as a writer. You are you, and don’t need your writing to be exactly like anyone else’s.