What Would SOPA Mean for SEO?

Posted on January 18, 2012 • Written by Ben Smith

By Todd Atkins

Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and Other Popular Sites Protest SOPA & PIPA

Internet giants are locking arms today and publically protesting Congress; urging them to not pass either of the two contraversial bills SOPA or PIPA. Many sites have simply put a message up on their homepage to contact your representatives. For example, Google is using their logo doodle to sent the message, but search is still accessible. Wikipedia on the otherhand, has completely blocked access to content to simulate some of the possible long term effects the legal measure may have.

What is SOPA & PIPA?

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) are two bills currently being debated in the US Senate and House of Reps dealing with piracy. For the most part they are two versions of the same bill. Here’s the deal… The MPAA (aka Hollywood) doesn’t like sites that pirate or faciliate the pirating of the movies they make. They spend all the cash to make the movie to entertain us and some people steal those movies.  So they approached Congress (read donated a ton of money to political campaigns) so they can protect their stuff.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Piracy is the same as stealing and they have the right to protect their intellectual property.

As always, there’s a catch. The bill gives the MPAA unprecedented authority and power to shut down any site that they feel violates their intellectual property rights. No judge, no jury, no accountability. This is why so many people are against it. That and there is a system in place already to handle these disputes, the civil legal system. Let’s say you run a site with movie reviews. You review the latest summer action movie and think it has no plot and really bad acting. This could be grounds for the MPAA to shut you down. Not just censor the page, shut down your whole site. If I link to your 1 star review, they may be able to shut down this site too. No cease and desist letter, no court ruling, just censorship.

How Would SOPA Effect SEO?

In a worst case scenario, your site is blocked. Ranking higher in Google will be the least of your concerns. In a slightly less worse scenario, Google removes you from the index to protect themselves from getting shut down for aiding people to find pirated content. Social media networks would no longer allow people to share links and content because someone may link to pirated content.

In essence, SOPA would kill SEO and the internet in general. Kill it in the sense that it would look nothing like it does today. The MPAA would have control over what you are allowed to see and do on the internet. If you want your site to get traffic, you have to bow down to their wishes, even if your site has nothing to do with movies.

Don’t we already have to bow down to Google’s rules? Getting a penalty from Google can get you banned from their search results. This is bad, but not the same thing. Google doesn’t have to give you a straight answer on why you were banned and their appeal process leaves something to be desired. However, you’re still online. Your current readers and visitors can still access your site, your content and services. People have a choice of which search engine they use so you can still be found through other search engines. You still get referral traffic from people who link to your site. People can still share your links on Facebook. SOPA would ban your entire domain from any traffic at all.

Will SOPA or PIPA Get Passed?

I don’t have a crystal ball. Knowing our political system, it is unlikely either would pass in its current form. It is far more likely Congress will milk both sides for campaign contributions as long as it can until the MPAA and the internet giants meet and find a compromise. Additionally, President Obama has said (in his wishy-washy non-committal way) that he opposes the measure. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take action. Wikipedia has a feature to find your representative’s contact info.

More Sites Participating in Today’s Blackout

Cheezburger Blackout Message


Wired.com Blackout


Craigslist.org SOPA Message

WordPress SOPA Blackout

Identi.ca Blackout

The Oatmeal Explains SOPA

The Oatmeal Explains SOPA

Boing Boing Blackout Message

Ben Smith

Written by Ben Smith

Ben Smith is a Researcher at Fruition, specializing in Google's Algorithm changes. Ben is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Mathematics program, and he enjoys learning about Google’s search algorithm updates. He's a vital asset of the Fruition team, and he one day hopes to publish a book. In his free time, you can find Ben enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.

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