Google Releases New Algorithm Update

Batten down the hatches, put on your tinfoil hats and tell your family you love them; Google has released another new algorithm update! Having unleashed its zoo of savage animals loose on poor quality content and spam before it, Google has identified a new target – pesky pirates.

The new update, unofficially christened ‘Emanuel’ by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, adds ‘amount of copyright infringement ‘takedown’ notices served against a site’ to the ever-growing list of factors that affect a site’s position in the rankings. In a blog post on the update, Google’s most senior Search engineer Amit Singhal claimed that the update will help users identify ‘legitimate, quality sources of content more easily’.

In simple terms, Google wants to eradicate virtual Long John Silver’s from its front page and is going to use DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notices to root them out. Simple, right? Well, not quite.

A Google algorithm update just wouldn’t be a Google algorithm update without a lot of confusion and controversy in the SEO community and Emanuel has been no different. In classic Google fashion, there has been plenty of backtracking and elaborating without really providing any solid answers since the update was announced.

One big point of contention has been Google’s very own DMCA takedown request magnet, YouTube. Surely that would be affected by Emanuel? Apparently not. Originally this was thought to be because YouTube makes use of an internal copyright infringement complaint system, but Google later announced that this would be taken into account along with the other external copyright infringement data it receives. Would Google really be taking a bullet for the greater good?

Nah, of course not. Instead, YouTube is going to be made bulletproof via search signals that Google didn’t elaborate on, along with sites such as Facebook and IMDB. True to form, there’s no solid explanation as to why some sites will escape a penalty while others will languish but Danny Sullivan provides quite a plausible explanation in a piece on Search Engine Land:

“My guess is that Google will be looking at factors to somehow determine if a site seems legitimate. Does it have many reputable links to it? Can Google detect if there’s a lot of sharing of content from those sites? Are there factors that already give the site a good “reputation” in Google’s algorithms for other types of searches.

Which all in all…actually sounds pretty reasonable. Google has provided a list of sites that could potentially be made to walk the plank however and it’s filled with pretty much the kind of sites you’d expect to be targeted. Whether this system of sorting ‘legitimate’ sites who make efforts to remove copyrighted material but still suffer from lots of DMCA requests from sites blatantly sharing pirated content actually works remains to be seen; based on Google’s previous track record with algorithm updates however, expect some kind of drama somewhere down the line.

There’s also the wee issue of the fact that a DMCA takedown request is actually an accusation of copyright infringement rather than a solid judgement and as Google isn’t Batman, it’s not within their jurisdiction to make that kind of judgement. In addition to that, Google itself has commented in the past that it’s difficult to establish who owns the rights to certain material. Nevertheless, they’re still going to consider lots of takedown requests as a negative signal which has already led to rumblings of DMCA requests being used as a form of negative SEO…although it’s probably not worth losing any sleep over just yet.

There’s also the lingering question of Google’s motives with Emanuel. Its dedication to bringing users the most relevant results for their search term regardless of what it may be has been a key factor in Google Search’s success but Emanuel would appear to be the biggest signal yet that ‘Google the search engine’ could be affected by the wider financial interests of ‘Google the corporation’.

A popular view at the moment is that Google is aiming to appease the major studios in order to tie up deals for its Google Play service, through which it hopes to secure plenty of booty from by selling TV and films. It’s also a bit of a kick in the teeth for fans of Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto as the company sides with evil Hollywood mega corporations. How do I know they’re evil? How else do you explain the actions of an industry willing to release not one, not two but three Transformers films?

The counterargument to all of this, of course, is that piracy is illegal and Google should be making efforts to fight it. You wouldn’t find a dodgy pirate video company advertising in the Yellow Pages, so why should Google provide publicity to sites whose only purpose is to distribute pirate materials?

This, again, is a very good point. But how much will the update actually help to counter piracy? Surely someone intent on downloading Nicki Minaj’s latest collection of horrors for free will just go ahead and do it rather than be put off by the fact a torrent site has been relegated to the 7th page? Furthermore, shouldn’t these decisions be in the hands of the user rather than having Google tell us what we should and shouldn’t be using as sources of content?

On the whole, the motives of Emanuel (beyond the alleged corporate ties) seem good. But given the somewhat confusing and fragile nature of the update, it’s hard not to foresee a lot of potential issues in the future.

  • Written by on 15th August 2012 at 16:50
  • “Fluid Creativity is an award-winning, multi-service digital agency based in Manchester.”
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