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Google's Pirate Update can cause 89% drop in search traffic for offending sites

On February 8, 2022, Google released a document to the U.S. Copyright Office saying “when a site is demoted [by the Pirate update], the traffic Google Search sends it drops, on average, by 89% on average.” This is a statement about Google’s efforts to remove sites that “received a large number of valid removal notices” as DMCA requires, hence the Google Pirate update from 2012.

The Pirate update. The Pirate update, which Google originally called the DMCA update, looked at if a site had a large number of DMCA takedown requests and if so, it demoted the site. Google officially only confirmed updating this algorithm once after its launch in 2012, that was in 2014. It is without a question that Google runs this algorithm update periodically to catch new sites that may be copying copyrighted content from others. But Google clearly does not announce each time the search company runs this update.

Google said in the new PDF document “we have developed a ‘demotion signal’ for Google Search that causes sites for which we have received a large number of valid removal notices to appear much lower in search results.”

89% demotion. This PDF document written by Google states that when sites are demoted by this algorithm, the sites hit on average see 89% less Google Search traffic as a result. The document states “When a site is demoted, the traffic Google Search sends it drops, on average, by 89% on average.”

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Redirect tricks. Google also said that it has a flag named “still-in-theaters/prerelease” that will pick up on when a site hit by this update redirects to a new domain without that flag. Google said, “We have also made it much harder for infringing sites to evade demotion by redirecting people to a new domain.” Google added “we have added a “still-in-theaters/prerelease” flag for DMCA notices involving this category of content to enhance the Search demotion signal.”

This report comes via TorretFreak, a publication that tracks the latest news about copyright, privacy and related topics. Also, a hat tip to @GlennGabe for notifying me of this.

Why we care. If a site gets too many (how many is unknown) DMCA takedown requests, it can lead to that site being hit by this Pirate update. If a site gets hit by the Pirate update, you can expect, on average, 89% less traffic from Google Search to that site. And no, redirecting that site to a new domain name won’t seem to help you.

So if you run into any clients during an audit that have these notices, which you might see Search Console notification, then maybe check the Google transparency report for the domain and then maybe request reconsiderations after cleaning up the issues.

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