News broke on Saturday about how Google specifically targeted mugshot compilation sites, effectively removing the profitability of those sites from the site owners. Essentially these sites just curate mugshots from all over the US, slap some ads on them, and then have a high-priced “mugshot removal” service which is really their bread-and-butter, because people who’ve had their mugshots featured – even if they were never charged with a crime – end up seeing their mugshots live on in infamy. And because of the great SEO, those websites usually dominate the entire front page of Google results when searching for a specific person who happens to have been arrested at some point in their life. Once Google removes the sites, or de-ranks them – and the fact that those site’s ranked for a ton of individual’s anmes – there is no reason for people to pay them for removal and their main source of traffic is gone.
Now, I’m sure we can all agree that these types of mugshot blackmail sites are pretty scummy So yes, pretty scummy, but pretty profitable, especially with the speculation that many of the sites are interconnected - when someone pays for removal on one sites, the jack the price up on the rest because they know someone is willing to pay for removal.
But, the important piece of this is the fact that Google decided it didn’t like a specific vertical and obliterated it from the search results. And it raises a lot of questions that should cause webmasters to have some sleepless nights. Because Google found this morally offensive, they decided to alter their search algorithm specifically so these types of sites would be whitewashed in the eyes of Google.
Now, we have seen this happen multiple times before, most recently where they whitewashed payday loans so that only the big national payday loan results were still listed. They also whitewashed “pirate” results, even ones are not true pirate sites, because they offer downloads that are considered illegal in the US.
But it’s definitely for the area when Google decides to make changes to their algorithm simply because they find something distasteful. What’s to say they won’t find something you’re involved in as distasteful, and change their algorithm for that. There are plenty of decidedly unethical market areas that many SEOs play around – and there’s no doubt in my mind, some of you were behind the mugshots thing to – so what is Google decides to whitewash those market areas too?
I can see all the reasons why Google decides take action against mugshots sites, and I can’t even begin to imagine the impact it had on those who do have mugshots and were finding it difficult to find jobs or rental housing. But it’s a slippery slope when Google decides what is ethical and unethical and whitewash their search results accordingly.