Established media players want greater differentiation in Google search results
Media companies with vast budgets who produce “professional content” should get some preferential treatment from Google, according to a weekend report in Advertising Age.
I’ve avoided using sensationalist headlines because I think there’s value in looking at the underlying principles here.
It would be very easy for me, as a blogger, to have a knee-jerk reaction against those calling for Google to favour certain brands, particularly as one content executive described bloggers as “parasites off the true produces of content”.
It seems to me that certain publishers already receive preferential treatment from Google, being invited on to the Publishers Advisory Council, and yet that isn’t enough. Google’s algorithms, which we all know can throw some bizarre results to the top of the pile from time to time, are being criticised for not differentiating these established brands (the likes of BusinessWeek, ESPN, The New York Times, WSJ, and so on) from the “mush” of social media and blogs that also cover subjects in their own way.
Perhaps part of the issue is that these established players expect to top the pile for extremely broad, single keyword results pages. The example given is that of the New York Times’ senior VP, Martin Nisenholtz, who was infuriated for not topping the list when searching for “Gaza”.
I know some novice Internet users still type in single keywords into search engines, but honestly it’s much more of a lottery to rank well for such a broad word than had he searched for “Gaza conflict” or “Gaza Israel conflict” or even “Gaza news”. To expect to be at the top of the pile for “Gaza” every time would suggest some serious results massaging.
In fact, Google has a section – funnily enough called “News” – which, while not perfect, does filter out a lot of the dross that these executives are complaining about.
Perhaps Google should make it clearer where the results come from, given that many sites don’t put their name in each article title, and that many users tend moy to look at or understand the displayed URL. I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but creating a two (or more) tiered system because certain publishers don’t like the influx of sites is definitely not on.
Another executive spoke logically on the situation. “They don’t owe us that we show up a particular way. They do publish a whole lot about how to make your site show up as much as possible. If people haven’t taken action on it, that’s their own damn fault.”
What do you think? Should Google do more to differentiate content from different “classes” of publisher?
Andy Merrett is a London-based full-time blogger writing for several Shiny Media technology blogs and various other projects. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.
“Should Google do more to differentiate content from different “classes” of publisher?”
If Google is what it became today is because it did not cave into artificial rankings in search. Doing it now would be suicide.
Big media execs should be careful what they complain about.
First of all, this complaint makes them look like whiny spammers — “Your (Google) algorithm favors quality over brand! How ridiculous!” :rolls eyes:
Second, big media is NOT going to be “the source” of news for much longer. They may be the leading producers of original content at the moment, but when the real sources of news (the experts, politicians, researchers, etc who actually make news) go direct to the public, big media will be producing derivative content just like the bloggers they disparage.
When people can write their own articles and reach thousands of people without needing the delivery infrastructure of big media, those people will bypass the filters of reporters, and just report their own news. We’re already starting to see this shift as news makers start writing their own blogs (and we’re all the beneficiaries of all these unfiltered thoughts).
Dave Winer, in particular, is big on the idea that the main publishers of news will soon be the sources themselves. “…every time a former source started publishing on their own, the process of new journalism took a step forward.” (link)
Wouldn’t you rather read about Obama’s plans from the administration’s own blog? Wouldn’t you rather learn about a Senator’s position by following his Tweets directly (eg., John McCain on Twitter)?
Rather than complain that Google’s algorithm favors quality over brand — which makes them look pretty foolish — big media should look inward to see how they can remain relevant and influential even as the Internet empowers their old sources.
Knowing absolutely nothing about running a newspaper or big media magazine, here are my completely uneducated suggestions for big media execs:
1) Use your awesome brands to get the sources. If sources are going to be publishing their blogs eventually, the big media guys should be using these next few years to grab as many of those expert sources as possible. Why aren’t all the thought leaders of the world publishing on the NYT blog network? They did the right thing giving the Freakonomics guys a blog. Why haven’t they offered all the bestselling non-fiction writers their own blogs under the NYT banner?
2) Your reporters are your most valuable asset. Make them a part of the solution, rather than fighting against them (by cutting salaries and laying them off).
Big media should give every reporter or contributor their own blog. Instead of paying them a salary, give them a revenue share (say, $5 per 1k pageviews). Then watch the quality of your content get much better as your reporter-bloggers work their asses off for that revshare.
Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but if I want to read the latest “professional” news on an event, I already have sites that I’ll go directly to (BBC News, for example). If I want to read less formal content, I’ll search for blogs, etc.
I wouldn’t necessarily go to the standard Google search page if I wanted news on a particular subject.
Go do a Google search on Gaza. Personally, that’s exactly what I’d want. Wikipedia entry, CIA factbook entry, link to The Guardian UK’s Gaza aggregation page (maybe if the NYT had such an aggregation page for its Gaza-related stories . . . .), link to the twitter #Gaza.
WTF did the NYT flak expect? I mean, that’s amazing that I can type Gaza into a search engine and quickly have this amazing set of resources pretty much instantly available.
Maybe if they spent less time on that stupid ACAP nonsense they could come up with a decent strategy beyond whining.
Impossible to do on broad keywords. I can imagine when one searches for “teen”, “sex”, “porn”,” Asian” all the results up to page 3 is from major publications. What these publications should do is improve their archive and internal search. That’ll make it more convenient for casual research and give surfers incentives to bookmark their sites or memorize their domain names or even visit them on a regular basis for the Firefox auto-fill.
Absolutely, agree with both of you.