Penguins and Pirates: Google’s Latest Crackdown on the Web

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably more than aware that Penguin 3.0 is currently on the go.

When Penguin 3.0 was released Friday before last, the SEO industry was on the edge of its seat. We’d all been speculating and panicking (thanks to quite a bit of scaremongering) and as far as most of us were concerned, it was going to be a big one.

Friday comes round, nobody seems to have noticed anything. Come Monday, there’s a slight bit of movement. One percent drops, half percent drops.

Barry Schwatz announced the release of Penguin 3.0 on Saturday 18th.  On Monday, John Mueller confirmed that Penguin was completely rolled out. On Tuesday, Google’s Pierre Far provided a bit more information to those of us who were confused by the lack of immediate impact.

It’s a slow rollout, which means the full effects might not be quite evident yet, even now. It’s a ‘refresh’, which would suggest it isn’t actually a Penguin 3.0 at all but more of a 2.5, and it concentrates on new spam rather than old, previously disavowed spam. So sites which have been waiting for a visibility hike after painstakingly removing bad links should be seeing an uplift in the coming weeks.

The Mozcast is still reporting a fair bit of turbulence, so its clear the update is still in progress.

penguin mozcast

Penguin 3.0 Lowdown

- This is a worldwide update, meaning that all versions of Google are being affected

- It’s a gradual rollout, currently only impacting 1% of queries

- It’s intended to reward sites which have cleaned up their link profiles

- It’s meant to punish sites which have recently built spammy links

But it’s not just Penguin that’s been pecking away, slowly, at rankings; there’s a Pirate update causing a bit of damage too.

What is the Pirate Update?

With all the buzz around Penguin, the Pirate Update was probably a little overlooked. But the more observant of us may have noticed that last Friday some torrent sites (which never have particularly good backlink profiles anyway) had seen some serious visibility drops.

The Pirate Update was originally a filter implemented by Google way back in August 2012, and was designed to tackle copyright infringement. There haven’t been many reported refreshes to the filter since then, so its about time there was a proper update. But so far, the effect has been a little inconsistent.

Despite being blocked by numerous UK ISPs, thepiratebay.se has been going pretty strong in terms of visibility since the start of the year. However, after the Pirate Update, its suffered quite a severe drop according to Searchmetrics.

piratebay visibility

Thepiratebay.se has interestingly seen significant drops for any term including ‘torrent’, and any term including ‘pirate’. They don’t even rank for their own search term any more – although searches for their term will reveal information regarding how to bypass ISP blocks to use it, and a couple of other less popular torrent providers appear on the first page.

the pirate bay

Whether the algorithm is complete or not is an interesting question; if it’s a gradual rollout like Penguin, that would make sense. I looked up some other notorious torrent sites to check their visibility, and a couple have actually seen a slight increase. Kickass.to is one such example.

kickass.to visibility

Interestingly, kickass.to has received significant ranking boostings for terms which piratebay.se has dropped. The latter’s keyword position for ‘family guy torrent’ has dropped a massive 99 places, whereas kickass.to is currently enjoying position 1 for this key term.

Search Engine Land also noted that torrentz.eu has taken a tumble; torrentz.eu have actually provided an example of how the SERPs have simply replaced results of more popular torrent sites with poor, less visited ones.

Already, we are starting to see more popular torrent sites being replaced by less ‘reputable’ ones in the SERPs. It’s all very well Google policing our search results, but I find it unlikely that those who often search for torrents are going to stop searching for them any time soon, so unless its possible to stick a load of news articles and Wikipedia results in to dominate the first 10 pages of results, it seems unlikely search volumes will drop; and well-known torrent sites will still receive direct traffic anyway.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Written by Sarah Chalk

Sarah Chalk

Sarah is an SEO Account Manager at 360i and has a keen interest in all things SEO. She has also written for a number of sites, including Vue cinema’s film blog and a number of tech websites.

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