Google published a blog post about fighting piracy that linked to a PDF report. The PDF report discusses a ranking demotion signal. Google’s report reveals that it uses this demotion signal to rank sites lower. This article reviews the little known demotion signal.
Definition of a Demotion Signal
The topic of negative ranking signal isn’t discussed much. If you search about ranking signals you’ll find articles about ranking signals that help a site rank. But rarely will you find an article about what negative ranking signals are.
Negative ranking signals have traditionally been considered to be things like links to irrelevant sites. Linking to sites in bad neighborhoods have also been considered to be a negative ranking signal.
As Google started focusing on user experience, other signals like slow page speed became negative ranking signals. Almost any positive ranking signal could be said to become a negative ranking signal.
Thus, if fast page speed is a positive ranking signal then a slow page speed is a negative ranking signal. In other words, a negative ranking signal can be something as simple as the opposite of a positive ranking signal.
What is a Negative Ranking Signal?
An argument can be made that the lack of a ranking signal is not a negative ranking signal. Lots of sites rank that have no SSL certificate and are also laden with advertising.
And that’s what makes this particular negative ranking signal stand out. It’s not the opposite of a positive ranking signal. It’s a negative signal all by itself.
Negative Ranking Signal
It is very rare for Google to explicitly discuss a true negative ranking signal. Which is what makes this document so interesting. This signal has been discussed in the past within the context of torrent sites and quickly forgotten.
After all, what do torrent sites have to do with Internet marketing, right? Wrong. There is a lot here that is of interest to the SEO community.
Google’s document states that DMCA reports filed against a website count as a negative ranking signal. It further states that the more DMCA reports Google receives the lower a site will rank.
Here is what Google states:
“Demoting Infringing Websites
In addition to removing pages from search results when notified by the copyright owners, Google also factors in the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site as one signal among the hundreds that we take into account when ranking search results.”
This establishes that DMCA reports are a negative ranking signal. It also states that the number of reports creates an increasingly stronger negative signal.”
Google goes on to say:
“…sites for which Google has received a large number of valid removal notices appear much lower in search results. This “demotion signal” amplifies the power of DMCA takedown notices, because each delisted URL can have an effect on the entire domain.”
There are three takeaways from that statement.
1. The DMCA notices must be valid.
How is valid defined? It could be that a valid DMCA notice is one that is not disputed. A valid DMCA complaint could be one that is disputed and subsequently found to be legally valid by a court of law.
2. The statement mentions the concept of a demotion signal.
3. The statement acknowledges that the more valid DMCA notices Google receives about a website the stronger the demotion signal becomes. It could be that taking out a page will make the other pages in a website less strong in terms of how much PageRank is distributed to other pages.
Google is unclear about how more DMCA complaints causes the entire domain to suffer.
Is the Demotion Signal New?
No. The demotion signal is not new. Previous versions have existed since 2012. However this demotion signal appears to have been updated into an actual demotion signal in 2014. Google announced it and published a PDF whitepaper about it.
The concept of a demotion signal has not been widely discussed in SEO circles except in the context of torrents. But a demotion signal can conceivably have a wider impact than just torrent related piracy.
The concept of a demotion signal is not widely discussed in the SEO community. But it’s worth taking note of the demotion signal.