Google ranks DMCAs higher than legal MP3 downloads

  • 1
  • December 14, 2012
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Strategy Director

A lot of criticism has come Google’s way from artists such as Tinie Tempah, who claim that search-engines aren’t doing enough to combat online music piracy. Enter a search term like “tinie tempah MP3” and your SERP will look something like this:

Google search for "tinie tempah mp3"

Tinie was amongst the artists who signed a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron stating that search-engines should “play their part in protecting consumers and creators from illegal sites,” effectively pushing legitimate sites up the rankings.

Which sites might Tinie expect to see for this search?

Amazon

Amazon MP3 is a labyrinth (excuse the pun) of session IDs. In fact, Amazon breaks all the rules when it comes to e-commerce SEO. Google has e-commerce ambitions of its own and hardly wants to reward its biggest rival for not following its guidelines – especially not with Google Music on its way to the UK.

Google Music

Google’s own MP3 store still isn’t available outside of the US, due partly to drawn out negotiations with record labels. The fact that Google does now demote sites which receive multiple copyright complaints is “helpful background music to these discussions [between Google and the labels]” according to the chief executive of the British Recorded Music Industry (BPI); suggests it’s probably fair to say that the power really rests with the record labels when it comes to rolling out Google Music in the UK. Maybe they’re the ones who should be doing more?

iTunes

Even if you manage to find Tinie Tempah’s iTunes page in a Google search, you have to download Apple’s monster of a music management program before you can buy his music. In fact, iTunes ranks in a search for “tinie tempah download” because the meta description says Apple wants you to “download iTunes now”. Chances are that if you’re going to download your music from iTunes, it’s because you already have it installed on your computer, where Google penalties for scraped content don’t apply.

Tinie’s website: tinietempah.com/downloads/

*Edit 05/09/17 – Tinie’s download page now 404s, which pretty much proves my point.

One site which does show up when you search for “tinie tempah download” is the rapper’s own website. Every major artist in the world has a social media presence, since they know how important it is for their careers; so why are they neglecting their own websites?

People landing on tinietempah.com/downloads/ will only find some sexy Tinie Tempah wallpapers, which is unlikely to be what they’re looking for.

What they’re actually looking for is his online store (*Edit 05/09/17 – also a 404), which is sat on a separate domain with comparatively little authority (Open Site Explorer says tinietempah.com has 578 linking domains, compared to tinietempahstore.com’s three) and doesn’t really appear in the SERPs.

Tinie and EMI obviously know that people visit Google and search for “tinie tempah MP3s” so why don’t they make the effort to rank for that term when they own a site that sells them? It doesn’t matter if Google demotes pirate sites if the legitimate sites aren’t even relevant for the search terms.

Easy wins for EMI and Tinie

EMI’s own website (*Edit 05/09/17 – also 404) has massive authority, but doesn’t currently link through to Tinie’s webstore. When EMI reported that Tinie’s album is nominated for the Mercury Prize, pointing readers to a place where they can Buy Tinie Tempah MP3s would be the most natural, relevant link in the world. Edit Tinie’s title tags and Google will have a genuine result to display which already sits on a keyword rich domain.

If it was simply a case of uploading your content (whether that’s a blog post or an MP3) and waiting for the money to roll in, nobody would be reading branded3.com hoping for insights on how to make that happen. Likewise, record labels need to learn that waiting for other websites competing for your key terms to get hit with a penalty is not the way to do SEO.

Just how many people actually are searching for “Tinie Tempah MP3s”? Google’s Keyword Tool says 5,400 people in the last month.

How many people are searching for Tinie Tempah MP3's?"

Compare this to how many people asked the search-engine “how do I download music” and it shows that record labels might be better spending their marketing budgets making it easier to find music legitimately, than trying to make it harder to download it for free.

How many people asked "How do I download music?"

How much does online piracy cost EMI each year? Probably a lot more than some simple SEO would.

Well, Google has gone some way to giving Tinie et al exactly what they asked for – search for “tinie tempah mp3” now and you’ll see this message several times:

Search for Tinie Tempah

What you won’t see is a single legitimate MP3 store on the first page of results – still. The highest ranking MP3 vendor is Amazon, who for me eventually makes an appearance just below the fold on page two.

Why can’t I find a place to buy mp3s?

After the first ten results returned for this search, users have to wade through no less than eight removal notices resulting from DMCA complaints before they can click navigate to the second page. So is Amazon ranking in 18th position for this term, or 26th? By “protecting consumers and creators from illegal sites” Google has essentially pushed the authentic sites further down the rankings.

Demanding penalties for competing sites is not the way to optimise your site for search engines, but punishing people who don’t do things your way is something that’s symptomatic of the mainstream music industry.

These are the top rankings for Tinie’s store returned by searchmetrics:

The top rankings for Tinie’s store returned by searchmetrics

Links to the site will no doubt have helped, but the main reason tinietempahstore.com appears in the third position for “tinie tempah official website” is because the words tinie, tempah and official all appear in the title tag.

Why are there still no legitimate “tinie tempah mp3” download sites in the SERPs?

According to the title tag, tinietempahstore.com sells “Disturbing London T Shirts, Hoodies, Tinie Tempah CDs & More”, where “& More” obviously refers to MP3s and downloads.

There’s even a landing page for MP3 downloads – http://www.tinietempahstore.com/tinietempah/Digital-Album/ – for which the title tag is “Tinie Tempah | Official Store – Music – Digital Album”, still no mention of the term ‘mp3 downloads’.

Label bosses and artists (such as Tinie, who’s just one example) are essentially asking “how do we stop people downloading music for free?” and should really be asking “how do we get people to pay for music?”

By highlighting the DMCA notices, Google has found a way to punish illegal sites without rewarding those that aren’t making enough of an SEO effort by optimising their own website for search terms such as “mp3 downloads”.

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