So Google has raised its game regarding pirated content. In an announcement on Friday, Google revealed an update to the search ranking algorithm that would take into account “valid copyright removal notices”. Effectively this means it will downgrade from its rankings sites which contain pirated material.
It’s pretty clear why Google has made these changes. Piracy is a hotly debated issue with some powerful, deep pocketed backers that Google really needs to get on side with if Google Play is going to succeed as a content distribution platform.
There are a few different viewpoints on this update; firstly is this going to make any difference to piracy? Doubtful. Following the blocking of pirate bay by UK ISPs, peer to peer sharing activity dropped for all of 2 weeks. Following the period of grace and perhaps fear of prosecution, it was business as usual for the sneaky downloaders.
The whole process of digital piracy prevention is often described as a game of “whack-a-mole”; knock one down and another pops up almost instantly. This will continue to be the case for those sites that either offer or facilitate the infringement of copyright. No amount of results shuffling on Google’s part will stop people accessing this kind of content and I doubt Google is the main resource.
Second on the responses would be: how will this affect the search results? It’s important to remember this is an update not a penalty, so we are likely to see periodic updates and refinements. It’s only one factor within the algorithm and likely to work in tandem with the quality site signals associated with the Panda like content to ad ratios, load times and quality content.
To those sites that are affected it might feel like a penalisation, but if it’s tied to DMCA you will have no doubt received notification through webmaster tools before now.
There is an outside chance that this algorithm change could be used against competitor sites as the announcement stats it would take in to account “valid copyright removal notices” rather than upheld complaints, that Google rightly states can only be decided by the courts. A notice does require a good level of detail to fill out and cannot be anonymously, hopefully preventing mass complaints being lodged to bring down competitors. This should take this out of the realms of negative SEO that simmers in the background.
Copyrights do extend beyond mammoth movie distributors and this change could make a modicum of justice a little more attainable to the smaller content producer. Taking the time to file valid complaint should be a little more worthwhile if the offending party plummeted in the search results, but it is unlikely to be instantaneous and need to be more than a one on one scenario. Repeat offenders are those at risk, not the odd stolen product description or T&Cs.
Overall, the change is for the better, even if it does add one more item on the SEO checklist. The likelihood it that this will be a minor change in the high profile search results but a major change in how large scale content creators view Google.
Paul Goonoo is head of search and marketing at Rippleffect
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