Pagejacking is a concept many people haven’t heard of, and its victims are often blissfully unaware that anything untoward has happened. Yet the malicious theft of web page content can be hugely frustrating, as well as damaging to a website’s SEO performance and traffic levels…
Pagejacking occurs when a legitimate website’s content is illegally cloned. The unauthorized reproduction of text or images is bad enough, but pagejacking typically includes coding as well. Meta tags, page headers, photo captions and even style sheets can be copied onto a third-party website. They are then submitted to search engines, attempting to replicate the original site’s SEO performance. If they can’t distinguish between author and imitator, search engines may promote stolen content to near-parity with the original pages in search results.
Pagejacking has been around since the 1990s, acting as one of many black hat marketing methods developed in the internet’s formative years. While some pagejacks direct unwary audiences to pornographic sites, others are intended to damage the reputation of the ‘donor’ platform. Business owners occasionally attempt to clone the content of successful or more established rivals, usually masking their actions by editing each sentence slightly.
It’s difficult to prevent people stealing online content, considering how easy web browsers make viewing the source HTML. Text editors like Notepad are ideal for copying and pasting this content,and while a copyright statement on your homepage will provide stronger legal grounds for complaint, pagejackers are rarely known for their morality. They might even claim you’ve cloned their site, which can be tricky to refute. Due to such complicating factors, there are few statistics on the frequency of pagejacking around the world.
The Mousetrapping Technique
One technique frequently used by pagejackers is called mousetrapping. This prevents people from leaving a cloned or fraudulent web page, by opening new windows every time an attempt is made to navigate away or close the page. Mousetrapping can lock people into an endless loop of web pages unless they Ctrl-Alt-Del or Command-Option-Esc out of their chosen browser. On a mobile device, a full system reboot may be required.
Tackling this phenomenon is complicated by the challenge of identifying that it’s actually occurred. Original websites are visibly unaffected, though visitor numbers and SEO rankings may decline as traffic is siphoned off to the malicious site. Audiences visiting a spoofed page rarely report it to the original site’s webmaster, while few entrepreneurs and marketing managers regularly search for their own content. Nonetheless, a web search for a lengthy block of text in quote marks should only reveal one result; multiple hits may indicate cloning.
It’s easy to avoid visiting a pagejacked URL, done by manually typing each web address into your browser. However, with so much traffic generated through search engines, this isn’t always practical. A ‘cease and desist’ legal letter to the thief’s web hosting company can yield results, and WestHost will always treat such reports with the utmost urgency. The latest Google and Bing algorithms attempt to ignore duplicated pages that have already been indexed, but this is no guarantee of safety. However, search engines are much more adept at identifying pagejacked content, usually downgrading or blocking offending websites from future results.