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.

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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.

By seobitch

Seobitch is a pen name for a well known female expert in the SEO industry that most of you likely already follow. She has more than a dozen years experience and is a very respected expert in the field. Seobitch can be controversial but writes about issues that most people are afraid to talk about due to their employers, clients or friends. She also loves to tackle industry issues from a different point of view than what you normally see the "complainers" of the industry complaining about. She is also open to suggestions for future topics you would like to see the SEObitch tackle.

20 thoughts on “Should webmasters be concerned about Google’s heavy-handed whitewashing of search results?”
  1. I would have lost sleep if I owned one of these such sites; however, getting traffic from Google isn’t everything. These webmasters just need to learn how to utilize other traffic sources. Great post my friend.

  2. Those mugshot sites ought to be illegal. I can understand some of them being government run and managed but those seeking profit on the pitfall of others including blackmail is absolutely gross.

  3. I get that this sites are profitable but its still wrong. I’m ashamed for anyone who supports these in any way.

    1. I agree 100%. They are right in league with the mugshot sites because they too prey on people’s bad luck and hard times. However, I’m not sure if I’m too keen on Google being the authority that gets to have the last say about whether they are featured in search results or not.

  4. Hey it’s Google’s business they’re allowed to change things. If people don’t like it then they can go use a different search engine. Just because they’re the top search engine doesn’t mean that they have to bend to everyone’s whim. At the end of the day their a business.

  5. Hey if you can’t deal with the reprecutions don’t do the crime then you don’t have to worry about your photo ending up somewhere you don’t want it, like on a mug shot site.

    1. Watch the 60 Minutes piece from last Sunday and you’ll realize how your comment is not relevant. I’ll give you a clue…there are a LOT of people who have had a mug shot taken who were found NOT guilty or ever even charged with a crime! Also, lets not forget about those that did commit a crime and later turned their life around. Should they be punished for the rest of their life with a mug shot on the Internet? If you believe that then why nor just keep them in jail forever regardless of the crime they committed! Shallow thoughts my friend!

  6. I really like this SEOBitch. She seems to know a lot more things than other bitches, and they are real facts.

    Reading info from her is like reading the newspapers, fresh and hot! Keep coming!

  7. Google is doing the right thing here.
    Put yourself in their place.
    If someone was using your website/service
    to blackmail other people,
    you would do the same thing… I hope.

  8. There is always complaints about google. frankly most internet marketers are sick of hearing about it, it is beyond our control what google does these days.

  9. Those mugshot sites ought to be illegal. however, getting traffic from Google isn’t everything.

  10. Some posters above who are saying Google traffic isn’t everything, well let me ask you this: “what other free source of search engine traffic can you count on, if not Google?

    To answer the author’s question yes, we should be concerned with Google’s meddling of their search results because Google is simply not transparent enough with what they do.

  11. i think governments should be effective in terms of seo. Or you will be inundated seo world 🙂

  12. Great article and sad news for any of those webmasters who tried to game it in the wrong way. But I don’t understand why Google keep dancing all the time with different changes.

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