Why Google Cracked Down on Piracy: 9 out of 10 Song Results are Piracy

Why Google Cracked Down on Piracy: 9 out of 10 Song Results are Piracy


Late last week Google announced their plans to crack down on websites who receive a large number of copyright removal notices.  The announcement was met by widespread coverage from mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post, New York Times, The Verge and others.

To provide some context on why Google might have felt compelled to act and clean up some of the piracy in their search results, at Conductor, we turned to data we had previously spent some time gathering in an effort to satisfy our curiosity about the scope of piracy in the SERPs.

We gathered two sets of five hundred keywords:

To end up with a set of keywords that might be reflective of how searchers look for music in the search engines we appended the word ‘mp3’ to each song title and also the word ‘download’.  For example: the song ‘wild ones’ became ‘wild ones mp3’ and ‘wild ones download’.  In this way we ended up with 1,000 song titles, a mix of modern and older songs with two variations on how searchers might search for the song on Google.

We entered the song titles in Searchlight, Conductor’s enterprise SEO platform, and in July of this year, we gathered the top five websites that appeared for the songs.  We categorized the sites that appeared as ‘Piracy’, ‘Legitimate’ (a website such as Amazon or Apple selling the song) or ‘Other’.

Our analysis showed that 9 out of 10 of the top 5 results are piracy—either a site whose clear intent it is to pirate music or a file sharing website hosting the song available to download for free.

Motivated by Industry Pressure, but Also an Effort to Improve on Relevancy

The motivation for Google’s announcement was likely influenced by pressure brought to bear by the music and movie industries who have long been fighting the piracy battle online.  But it is also likely a spoke in the hub of a long-term strategy, that includes the recent Penguin/Panda search algorithm updates, to improve on search relevancy.  And that, ultimately is a good thing for searchers everywhere.

About Nathan Safran

Nathan is the Director of Research at Conductor and leads Conductor’s research and content team. Nathan is a monthly columnist at Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch. Nathan’s research on digital marketing has been widely covered in both industry publications and mainstream media such as Techcrunch, Venture Beat and the Washington Post. Prior to joining Conductor, Nathan was an analyst at Forrester Research.

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