Google’s new anti-piracy rankings are rolling out this week and it’s fair to say that the pirates are not exactly quaking in their boots, with The Pirate Bay claiming the move will actually increase its direct traffic, according to Torrent Freak.
“That Google is putting our links lower is in a way a good thing for us,” the site writes on its blog, pointing out that a very low amount of its traffic comes from search engines anyway. “We’ll get more direct traffic when people don’t get the expected search result when using Google since they will go directly to TPB.” In other words, by downgrading links to pirate sites Google (and the music and film industries who back the move) risks creating hardcore pirates out of casual consumers (which, as an argument, requires a serious leap of faith to fully grasp).
The post, however, illustrates the tricky path that the content industries must navigate in their dealings with piracy. Asking Google to downgrade the search rankings of pirate sites is a move evidently aimed at casual consumers, rather than serial pirates. And, for the large part, it is likely to work, with most members of the general public likely to visit the legal sites that will pop up first in their Google rankings (with research showing again and again that users are unlikely to look beyond a second or even third page of Google results).
However, this must be weighed up against the risk that some casual users could do as The Pirate Bay suggests and go directly to the pirate sites, where they will almost certainly discover extra content to download. If – as seems likely – this only happens to a minuscule number of casual users then it could be seen as a price worth paying. But if the rate of conversion is higher than expected then the change in Google rankings could prove a spectacular own goal.