How to (Ethically) Steal Other People's Content

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Aaron Agius
Aaron Agius



How would you feel if you knew that all your favorite brands and industry thought leaders stole content everyday?

Well, they do. And I think you should too.

Now, before you panic, I’m not suggesting that you go out and plagiarize everyone else. That would make for a painfully dull content ecosystem. (Not to mention that Google would probably penalize us all.)

In fact, let me say it one more time, just to be totally clear:

You should never plagiarize content.

Instead, you need to recognize that there are very few truly unique ideas left out there. If you’ve thought about it, so has someone else. 

This isn't a new thing. Writers, designers, and artists have been inspired by each other’s work for centuries. Each new generation builds on the elements of the past. Even Mark Twain once said:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations."

Technology hasn’t changed anything. We’re still adapting each other’s work and ideas to fit our own brand and personality. We’re learning from both the success and failures of those that have gone before us. And we’re making new discoveries by building on certain proven elements.

Some call it stealing, but artists call it being inspired.

In the digital marketing era, there are several ways we can use this artistic concept to build on existing ideas. When you embrace this workflow, you’ll find it much easier to create new content and avoid burnout.

This Headline Was Forced to Promote Your Competitor’s Content Due to a Genius Formula. First You’ll Be Shocked, Then You’ll Be Inspired.

When it comes to stealing content, start with headlines.

Find formulas that work and adapt them to your story. You’ll find that the same basic formulas account for much of the content produced today. Much like the sub-heading for this section shows, it’s just a matter of making the formula work for you.

Why Headlines Are So Important

According to Copyblogger, on average, only 2 out of 10 people will read beyond your headline. You’ve got to create powerful headlines the evoke action from the reader.

The best way to do that? Focus on certain words in your headline. KISSmetrics reported that people tend to only really grasp the first and last three words of your headline. The words in the middle often get ignored. They argued that this phenomenon makes the ideal headline length six words.

Let’s see how that looks with the clickbait formula we used for this section’s heading:


Clickbait titles like these often work because there’s an air of mystery that peaks your curiosity (it's been called The Curiosity Gap). If you removed all but the first and last three words, it’d still make me a bit curious. Even though you don’t have the full picture, the headline makes you want to click through.

And that’s why headlines have so much power.

In the midst of a crowded, noisy, information-packed world, they can make the reader want to click.

But you don't need to only resort to Upworthy-style headline structures -- there are quite a few you can steal.

Headline Formulas You Can Steal

Lenka Istvanova analyzed the best practices for click-worthy headlines. During that analysis, she developed The Ultimate Headline Formula. It goes like this:


Example: 16 Facts About Video Marketing That Will Keep You Up at Night

Because headline formulas can help your content be more successful, many helpful leaders have put together their own list of headline formulas. Feel free to steal all of them with a completely free conscience:

With all those resources at your disposal, you don’t have any excuse for crafting poor headlines. Get to writing!

All Architects Steal: It’s the Nature of the Job

An architect is a person who designs buildings. In many cases, this same person also oversees the construction process. In content marketing, I think of an architect as the person who handles the initial step in the creative process: designing your content's structure.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are several guidelines for structuring your content marketing campaigns that are already out there. Sometimes you don’t need to think outside the box; you simply need to use the tools that are already in place. Here are a few places you can look for content structure inspiration.

The Inverted Pyramid Structure

One of the most foundational components in traditional journalism is the inverted pyramid structure. Today, bloggers don’t hold to it as religiously, but it’s still a good rule of thumb to steal when you feel lost and overwhelmed.

The idea behind this structure is that the most important information goes at the top, with supporting information following. That way, if someone stopped reading mid-way through the story, they'd still retain the core concepts of the piece.

Here's what stories using the inverted pyramid look like: 


Image Credit: University of Leicester

Types of Content You Should Steal

Another structural content element you can steal: the type of blog post you create.

You’ll see dozens of content types online. Each of them has their own basic style, function, and purpose. Saying that you’re going to create a blog post, lead generation magnet, or graphic leaves you with a vague direction.

However, if you steal a popular type of content, then you’ll have more clarity on how to get started.

  • Instead of a blog post, write a: How-to, Interview, Review, Time-Saver, Best Practice, Ask the Experts, Event-Based, Research Guide
  • Instead of a lead generation magnet, create a: Checklist, Quiz, Survey, Ebook, White Paper, Case Study, Template, Beginner’s Guide, Framework
  • Instead of a graphic, design a: Infographic, Meme, GIF, Cartoon, Chart, Graph

Econsultancy’s Periodic Table of Content Marketing has tons of other ideas that you can steal to clarify your content marketing efforts:


The moral of the story is that borrowing other people's content formats helps you focus on the good stuff -- actually creating helpful content.

If They Wrote About It, You Can Too

Now, we’ve already discussed headlines and structure. But there’s one more thing that you can ethically steal: topic ideas for new content. I’ve found that the best place to look for these ideas are from the people already writing about your topic.

Namely, your direct competitors. Here's what you can gather from them.

Expand on Your Competitor’s Content

The best way to succeed at content marketing is to go above and beyond what everyone else is doing. If you’re willing to go deeper into a subject, you’ll win every time.

Look at what your competitors are writing about. What subjects do they cover? How often are they publishing something new to the blog?

Then ask yourself a simple question: How can I post more in-depth and frequently than my competitor?

Answer that question and you’ll have an endless supply of ideas. Then, the only challenge that’s left is actually creating the content.

What other content hacks or cheats do you use to create awesome content? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

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