Google changes policy on organic search

1 Jul 2020 , 6:53pm

Simon Baggs and Mike Sweeney of Incopro welcome changes to Google's steps to remove counterfeit products from its organic search pages but argue it does not go far enough

Google issued confirmation on June 11 2020 that, upon being notified, it will now remove from organic search results links to pages on websites which list a counterfeit product. We have lobbied for change extensively in this area and, whilst the practical implications for brands are still to be examined in full, we tentatively welcome this development as a positive step forward for brands and their consumers.  

Incopro has long been committed to driving change in Google’s policy on organic search.  We targeted change through the publication of our White Paper in October 2019 and, more recently, through further dialogue with Google.  

Incopro has been consistently clear that search engines can and should do much more to protect brands and their consumers.  The recent proposal which Incopro put to Google sought, amongst other things, to emphasise how its position in relation to the removal of counterfeit websites from organic search results was both flawed and unsustainable.    
Google has added an option to its Legal Shooter Form through which users can now report links to pages on websites offering for sale counterfeit goods from organic search results (much as they can in relation to links containing copyright infringing content): 
 
  The significance of this development should not be overlooked.  Until now, Google required brands to incur the cost and inconvenience of securing a Court Order before it would agree to remove counterfeit web pages.  This latest development represents a significant departure from that position and allows brands quickly to ask Google to remove links to pages that offer counterfeit products for sale.  

This presents brands with an additional weapon to deploy against infringing websites.  Successful website enforcement is often reliant on brands issuing notices to the parties responsible for operating the website (hosts, registrars etc). Frequently, those notices go unanswered or are resolved only for the site to emerge elsewhere on the Internet where the infringement cycle begins all over again.  As noted in the White Paper, Incopro’s research  established that search engines are pivotal in directing traffic to infringing websites, with an average of 56.3% of traffic to counterfeit selling sites arriving via organic search.   
 
What's the catch? 

Whilst at first glance this appears overwhelmingly to be a positive development for brands and their consumers, there are notable limitations around this which brands should consider carefully. 

In particular, Google’s revised position anticipates that it will agree to deindex individual web pages. It does not agree to deindex entire websites (which could potentially be comprised of many hundreds or thousands of URLs).  This leaves brands potentially having to file separate notices in respect of each individual URL for websites which are typically dedicated to selling counterfeit goods and which serve no legitimate purpose.   

As such, the proposed solution does not go far enough and falls significantly short of the scalable remedy which Incopro asked Google to consider in our recent proposal.  Whilst Incopro welcomes this progress from Google, we will continue to press for far more to be done to protect brands and consumers.