After a near two month break, Google finally decided to release its normally monthly Search Quality Highlights, the list of changes to its interface, algorithm and search behaviour. They certainly weren’t slacking off though, with a list of 86 changes. We highlight some below.
The changes look to affect the rankings in a variety of different ways but nothing that could considered out of the ordinary. What was unusual though was the subsequent release of what been called the Pirate Penalty.
Ranking and Page Quality
• Google Panda, their spam algorithm, has been updated.
• There are numerous updates which mysteriously refer to an increased emphasis on high quality content from trusted sources. This will likely relate to readability and legitimising authorship.
• The top results will be ordered more effectively ordered by combining several ranking components.
• Official pages for brands will now start to rank higher than websites which are just unsanctioned representatives, regardless of SEO.
• An update called Lime will allow search queries focusing on content freshness to get access to more relevant and unique content.
• The Freshness ranking signal will now be turned off in cases where freshness isn’t a concern for the search queries’ subject matter.
Site and Sitelink Clustering
• Web results from the same website will now be clustered more simply so multiple pages from one site don’t dominate the SERP.
• Improved ranking of sitelinks in the expanded menu so the most important pages are presented first.
• The titles and text for these sitelinks will also be improved so as to give more accurate and useful information about the link to users.
This is a new ranking signal, also known as the Emanuel Update, as many believe the update was prompted by comments made by Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel regarding Google and piracy. The update will see those sites who received many DMCA takedown requests, penalised in the rankings (or rather just ignored, as Google put it). They also haven’t made any way to recover from the penalty public.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests are submitted by copyright owners to Google who review the complaint and decide whether or not to remove the specific page (not site) from the results. This can be reversed with a counter request but the complaint will still affect your rank.
As these DMCA removals have no legal bearing in the real world, many have questioned whether Google is in a position to be making definitive judgements on copyright law. After all even government courts of law have been known for unfair victimisation. There is also the very real possibility that unethical SEOs may use these takedown requests as a way to push their competitor site down in the ranks.
Some critics have even said that Google created the policy to appease powerful members of the entertainment industry, as Google has now entered the content distribution industry with Google Play. This will mean they will need legal holders of this content (music, films, television series etc.) to do business with them. And they can’t look as if they’re lenient on content piracy if they hope to achieve this.
What Does it Mean for SEO?
Well it depends who you are really. Websites which create their own unique content or distribute content that isn’t copyrighted aren’t likely to be affected at all. Smaller websites which allow user submitted content, or that blog on aspects of copyrighted property, might feel the pinch if the copyright owners decide to complain. Torrents, who are the biggest offenders of the DMCA, will be heavily penalised.
On the other hand, Google has said that they don’t expect hugely popular websites such as Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook, who are often receive DMCA requests, to be affected much. Not much has been said as to why but one can assume it has to do with the cultural significance on the web and how hard content propagation is to control on site of this size.