Building a new website is literally easier than it’s ever been. There are countless services that will help you get started and a never-ending slew of tools to help you get your business or personal endeavor online.
However, that’s not to say that there is no work. One still needs to make the site look attractive, fill it with useful content, and then maintain/update the site moving forward.
To help with this, many web designers, especially those that are new to it, get help in the form of themes or stock templates that can be obtained from a variety of sites.
And those templates are getting more and more specific, covering smaller and smaller niches providing both a layout and overall design that’s fitting, but content for it as well.
However, if you purchase one of these themes, the very first thing you should do is replace all the content that comes with it. That includes every image, every word of text and any audio or video that came with it.
The reason simple: You don’t know where that content came from. As such, it can cause both legal and professional problems down the road.
Potential Copyright Issues
The biggest and most obvious issue is potential copyright issues. When you publish content on your site that you did not either create yourself or license yourself, you’re trusting that the person who gave it to you sourced it both legally and ethically.
However, that is very frequently not the case. Many times, designers choose images or text based upon how it looks or reads, not whether they have permission to use it. But, even if they have permission to use it, that license may not extend to the people that purchase the theme.
If you publish unlicensed content on your site, it will inevitably be you that winds up that winds up dealing with any legal consequences for it. For decades, photographers and visual artists have been aggressively seeking payment for the commercial use of their images. Many of those caught are people who simply kept stock images in from themes that they bought.
But it’s not just threats of lawsuit. Rightsholders of all stripes can file Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices targeting infringing images and text. Recent court rulings have made it so that even embedded content can pose a threat.
All of these are issues that you and your site will have to face, and any recourse against the person who sold you the content is likely limited.
Ultimately, what you put on your site is your responsibility, and it is up to you to ensure that all of it is correctly licensed. Just because you bought the content in a theme doesn’t mean that you can duck responsibility when angry creators turn up at your door.
The Business Issue
But while the copyright and other legal issues may be the most serious reason to change the content out, there’s another that may ultimately be more urgent.
Online, you want your business to stand out. However, most themes are sold dozens, hundreds of even thousands of times. How is your business going to stand out if you have the same images, same text and same videos as everyone else?
To make matters worse, it can also negatively impact your search engine ranking. Though duplicate content is still a divisive issue among those that study search engine optimization, Google has acknowledged that plagiarisms can outrank originals. So, even if you get your site up first, there’s no promise it will be easily found.
This is also bad for consumers and visitors, who are likely checking out multiple sites in a field. If they see a slew of different companies with different names and domains but identical content, that breeds mistrust of all the sites involved.
In short, buying a prepackaged website, especially one that will be sold to others, is a bad idea if you aren’t going to change the content.
Some General Tips
If you do buy a theme and intend to use the content that comes with it, either in part or in full, you need to be exceptionally careful. So, when purchasing a theme, there are a few things that you should always do:
- Read the License Carefully: We tend to skip past licenses and agreements, but this is definitely one to read and understand. You need to know what you are buying, how the license you’re obtaining operates, what recourse you have (if any) should it not be what you were promised and so forth. If you’re not comfortable parsing licenses, now is the time to speak with an attorney.
- Check the Work You Keep: Any content that you keep on your site should be checked to see where it appears elsewhere online. You can use Google Image Search to backtrack any images and regular Google search, with quotes, to check for text. Learn now only how common the work is online, but where it likely came from and if you need to obtain a separate license.
- Purchase from a Reputable Site: This should go without saying, but many still try to save a few dollars to buy a theme from a less-than-reputable company. However, those themes often turn out to be directly pirated. But, even if the themes themselves are not pirated, they often come with preloaded content that is.
- Make Changes Before Going Live: Once your site is live and visible to search engines, that is when rightsholders can detect copied content and begin to take action. If you need to make changes to the site, do so before taking it live because an under construction site can be as big of a problem as a finished one.
- Put the Focus on Making the Site Yours: Though it’s true that sites that share the same theme will have some similar visual notes as peers (this one shares notes with others that use its theme) the site needs to be immediately recognizable as unique to you. So, if you do decide to keep content, make sure it’s not material that would peg your site as just another clone.
All in all, these are basic rules that don’t really take much time. The problem is that many would-be webmasters are lured in by promises of a site that is “ready to go” though, quite clearly, it is not.
In the end, it comes down to basics. You want your site to be uniquely yours, and you want to be 100% sure that it’s free of copyright or other legal issues. To achieve that, you need to use unique and original content. That includes material you create yourself and material you correctly license from third parties.
It’s easy to see why many are intimidated by that process, but it’s important to do for both legal and business reasons. The good news is that modern web development is easier and more approachable than it ever has been, and there are tons of great tools that can help make that happen.
It does require some work and effort, but it mostly requires awareness of the issue, and that is something many new businesspeople seem to be lacking.