A few days ago we reported that Google is updating its search algorithm by now including the number of valid copyright takedown notices received by websites. What implications does this change have on Google search results? Which results are going to be last and which simply will not show up?
What’s at stake with each change
In February 2011, Google changed the algorithm to target and punish copied content, more specifically, content farms; or sites whose only objective is to get a high position in search engine results. Some of these sites copy content from other sites and have no intention to deliver solid articles and information. Before making the changes, Google noted that 11.8% of its results were going to be affected by the algorithm change. A few days after the introduction of the new algorithm it was clear that content farms would not be the only ones affected by the algorithm change,. Many other sites which aggregate news or even were victims of plagiarism by actual content farms, saw how their search traffic went down. Other sites that aggregate lots of information like The Huffington Post were able to pass the storm without losses, but not without a lot of controversy.
The main concern of any digital media property regarding changes in Google algorithms is related to the traffic and advertising/e-commerce income it generates. Google’s attack on content farms not only affected 11.8% of search results, but also a similar percentage of advertising served on the web. This means that every time Google changes its formula, what’s at stake is the real economy, actual money: advertising revenues , ecommerce, etc. A few days after the algorithm change the content farm Mahalo fired 10% of its work force, The reason? Mahalo’s traffic dropped 80% because of Google’s algorithm change.
Implications of the most recent change
Google’s new policy aims to sanction sites that constantly fall under copyright infringement. What happens here is that Google does not detect similar content and decides which one was published first. It rather accounts for site takedown notices arising out of copyright violations. Google will only take into account takedown notices which have been confirmed by a legal institution (e.g. U.S. Courts). It is the legal system, not Google, who has the last word.
This algorithm change is a clear measure against sites like ThePirateBay or Taringa, who have a history of conflicts with the U.S. legal system. But concerns in the industry remain because the move, and possibly future related moves, could unfairly impact legitimate digital properties.