So Why Did All Those Movie Sites Lose Google Search Traffic?

Google Movie Site Traffic Drop and Recovery

In the last month, many webmasters noticed there seemed to be an update to the Google algorithm that hit mid February. On February 14, people were noticing fluctuations in rankings, but some webmasters were reporting that there didn’t seem to be any update, including the MozCast, which actually showed the 14th as one of the lowest changing days.

Despite there being different opinions about what’s exactly happened on the 14th, it’s clear that overall traffic for sites that are in the movie related niche seem to be the ones impacted by the update.

Peter Sciretta (@slashfilm) of Slashfilm, found this very troubling, so he tweeted to Google’s Matt Cutts asking why so many movie blogs had been targeted and lost half of their traffic during February.

A few days later Cutts responded, which is unusual because he normally doesn’t respond to too many people about specific search traffic issues on his Twitter feed. Cutts apologized for the delayed response and said he was hoping to look into the issue soon.

Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Interactive looked into the issue himself when he saw the tweet and found another movie related site, ScreenRant, that had also seen this traffic dip on the 14th that look nearly identical to the one seen on Slashfilm. It might unusual to see two sites that are in the same industry, yet are unrelated, both get hit at the same time, so it definitely raised flags that something industry-specific going on.

Then, couple days after Cutts tweeted about the Slashfilm issue, this traffic for both Slashfilm and ScreenRant jumped back up to near their previous levels.

In a thorough analysis, Gabe identified multiple areas that he believed could be among the reasons the sites were targeted. This included thin content, affiliate links, content syndication networks on the page, and what he believes to be the primary reason for the traffic dip: embedded videos and trailers that had been subsequently removed for copyright infringement.

When the movie blogs got hit, a number of people in SEO (including myself) started making the connection between YouTube, copyright infringement, and the algo hits. As movie blogs, one could only imagine that there were a lot of posts about movies that contain video clips, trailers, etc. So, I was interested in seeing how much video footage I would come across during my analysis, and how much of that was problematic copyright infringement-wise.

And since we live in an embeddable world (with YouTube and other video networks making it easy to embed video clips on your own website), questions started to arise about how Google could treat the various parties involved in copyright infringement. In other words, who is the source of copyright infringement? And how can you police others SEO-wise that might be part of the problem? What about websites that simply embed public YouTube clips? All good questions, and I was eager to dig in.

It wasn’t long before I came across webpages with video clips that had copyright infringement problems. Now, those clips were typically sourced at YouTube or other video networks like Yahoo Video. The great part about YouTube clips that were taken down is that they will literally provide a message in the clip that the user associated with the account has been removed due to copyright problems. That made my analysis easier, to say the least.

The possibility that Google is targeting sites because it simply embedded in these videos is definitely one webmasters should be concerned about. Particularly as we don’t know if this algorithm was rolled back only for those specific film sites, and left active for other types of sites.

Is it something that webmasters should be concerned about when they are embedding content that they feel could likely be removed for copyright infringement a later date. Is it safe to embed videos? Should you simply link to it? Or should you have some sort of check in place where someone checks pages every day in case something is been removed?

Until we know more about how this algorithm works, and if it was entirely rolled back, webmasters should err on the side of caution.

Another curious finding from Gabe was that similar sites experienced the opposite, and actually gained traffic. CinemaBlend, for example, saw a dramatic spike on the 14th at the same time Slashfilm and ScreenRant lost theirs. However, CinemaBlend loss traffic a month earlier, and were in recovery mode. But Gabe also discovered that the site seem to be stripped embedded videos on pages where clearly there’d once been a video.

Was this change on the 14th actually Panda? It’s unclear if it was Panda related or if it happened to be some other part of the algorithm that can be lumped into it, as Google does algorithmic refreshes that are specifically related to Panda or Penguin.

It was clearly somehow tied into the entertainment and movie industry, and seem to be directly tied to YouTube embedded videos for content that was removed for copyright violation. Clearly, site that just embedded video – when they were not the source of the video – should not be penalized. But for some reason, the sites were. There are many sites that embed videos because it is some hot content, even some of it does get hold of a later date.

You can read the Gabe’s full analysis here. It is well worth a read, especially for those in the entertainment industry seeking insight into traffic fluctuations seen over the last month or two.

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