Google’s algorithm has typically ranked a website based on how many other sites link to the particular site, on the assumption that sites that get more links are more trustworthy and thus more useful to end users. However, it’s well known that Google also regularly tweaks its algorithm to reflect new and current circumstances regarding the state of the Internet. Last years, panda update is a great example of a large tweak created in part because Google considered content farms to be a bad thing. Last year’s content farms appear to be this year’s content pirates, as Google recently announced that they will begin to use “valid copyright removal notices” to assist in the ranking of sites in its search results.
The announcement came pretty quietly via a blog post by Google’s senior vice president of engineering, Amit Singhal that appeared last Friday. In this same post, Singhal seemed to hint that the changes will have no effect on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and of course the Google owned YouTube. Unfortunately, Singhal failed to go into specifics as to why these popular social media sites would avoid the new penalty for piracy complaints.
So What Does the Pirate Penalty Mean?
In the case of the Pirate Penalty, it appears that sites with high numbers of copyright-removal notices will receive a significant downward bump in rankings. In effect, Google will be helping users find legitimate sources of content without removing any pages or sites from its results completely.
For those of you worried about this penalty negatively impacting your site, your fears are understandable, but more than likely out of context. Take a look for yourself at Google’s transparency report , and you will see that they appear to be targeting large file sharing sites with an abundance of DMCA notices. However, Google even said that just because a site appears on that list doesn’t necessarily mean it will be hit with the penalty, and that they will be tweaking the process of the pirate penalty as they move along.
A More Strategic Reason Behind the Pirate Penalty?
Just last month, Google announced they were testing a TV/Internet package in the greater Kansas City area. Google’s TV/Internet Package, branded Google Fiber, currently offers channels like Showtime, Starz, The NFL Network, and several members of the Viacom family. Google also currently sells movies and music through its Google Play store for android based phones and tablets.
Historically, Google’s actions have put them directly at odds with media creators. This Pirate Penalty may be just as much a strategic move to get Hollywood to stop viewing Google as an accomplice to criminals, as much as it is a move for the benefit of the Internet.
Regardless, the pirate penalty in time will probably prove to be a smart move that benefits not only Google but all. With stronger partnerships with the media giants, this could be the first step in a process that could one day lead to an intelligent, robust, and cost effective TV/Internet offering that could revolutionize the home entertainment industry.
What does this mean for the average website owner?
For the average website owner, it likely will not impact you directly. If you are knowingly using copyrighted material on your website, than you somewhat deserve to be penalized. If however, you allow user submitted content on your website, you may want to take some safeguards to protect yourself. For starters:
- Add a DMCA agent to your site
- Craft and prominently post a policy that clearly prohibits the posting of copyrighted material without expressed consent from the owner of the copyrighted material.
- Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools. Google Webmaster Tools can be used to alert you to any notices that might be filed against your site.
These 3 small steps should allow you to dodge any cannonballs that fly your way as a result of the Pirate penalty. They likely could have helped Kim Dot Com.