Google Search Rankings

When Google releases a major algorithm update, it can take weeks or months to fully understand the effect. Google itself tends to be tight-lipped about the updates, preferring to point website owners and businesses to its general webmaster guidelines for advice on an update. 

Because of all this, we are just starting to grasp what Google’s recent algorithm updates did to search engines. One thing that has become quickly apparent, though, is that one of the biggest losers from Google’s 2020 algorithm updates has consistently been online piracy. 

This is most clear in a new end-of-year report from TorrentFreak and piracy tracking company MUSO

How Google’s Algorithm Updates Affected Digital Piracy

Overall, the analysis shows that site traffic to piracy sites from search engines has fallen by nearly a third from December 2019 to November 2020. Notably, the two big periods leading to this loss of traffic line up perfectly with Google’s algorithm updates earlier this year. 

In January 2020, piracy traffic began dwindling shortly after the January 13th core update. 

After experiencing a short uptick at the start of the COVID pandemic in March, the May 4th core update then hit online pirates even harder, sending piracy traffic plummeting. 

Early indications from the public and some analysts suggest the December 2020 core update continued this trend, though it is too early to know for sure. 

Interestingly, TorrentFreak and MUSO say they corroborated the findings of their report with operators of one of the largest torrent websites online:

“To confirm our findings we spoke to the operator of one of the largest torrent sites, who prefers to remain anonymous. Without sharing our findings, he reported a 35% decline in Google traffic over the past year, which is in line with MUSO’s data.”

Is Google Completely Responsible?

It should be noted that while Google’s algorithm updates likely played a large role in the decline of search traffic to piracy sites, other factors almost certainly contributed as well. 

TorrentFreak’s report shows that direct traffic to piracy-related sites experienced a gradual 10% decline over the course of the year. This may suggest overall interest in pirating content may have fallen somewhat on its own. 

Additionally, 2020 was a unique year with less content coming out than usual. The COVID pandemic disrupted pretty much every industry, including creative industries. Music releases were pushed back or cancelled as it became difficult to safely record in studios. The closing of theaters led to the delay of many major movies, and TV creators had to completely rework how they wrote and filmed their shows. 

With less content from major studios and artists, it is highly likely users just had less available content that they were interested in pirating. 

Why This Matters

The good news is that the vast majority of business-related websites have absolutely nothing to do with online piracy and therefore should be safe from these effects of Google’s most recent algorithm updates. 

The less good news is that Google’s core algorithm updates are designed to impact a huge portion of websites around the globe, and certainly had impacts outside the realm of digital piracy. 

Still, we felt it important to highlight a real-world way a major Google algorithm update can impact an entire industry on a wide-scale within search results. 

Ultimately, the takeaway for most website owners is that keeping an eye on your analytics is essential.

If you are watching, you can respond to major shifts like this with new strategies, optimization, and even ask Google to recrawl your site. If you aren’t monitoring your analytics, however, you could lose a huge chunk of your traffic from potential customers with no idea why.

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