Google Update Favors Original Reporting in Search
The Digital Revolution disrupted just about every practice in publishing, but one constant remains: When it comes to covering news that was revealed by a competing outlet, publishers still tend to let their egos override service to the reader.
For two very different reasons – both having to do with that Great Frenemy of Publishing, Google – publishers need to start thinking with their brains rather than their egos. The traditional approaches to other outlets’ scoops aren’t just bad journalism any more. They have become bad business practices as well.
The latest entry in the Publishing Ego Hall of Fame was posted last week by The Washington Post with the headline “How a debate about punching Nazis sparked the fight to create tech’s first name-brand union”. It had a strange resemblance to a sub-head Slate had published a few weeks earlier, “How a Nazi-punching satire led to the first union drive at a well-known tech company—and, workers say, the firing of two organizers in eight days.”
In fact, the entire Washington Post article was pretty much a rehash of three investigative pieces by Slate tech reporter April Glaser. But nowhere did WaPo mention the groundwork done by Glaser or provide a link to the Slate articles for those wanting more information.
Google’s algorithms have encouraged such practices, emphasizing recency over originality. Groundbreaking articles have tended to drop quickly in search results as they are supplanted by competitors’ shorter, snappier, SEO-optimized rewrites.
But Google recently recognized that it had created pernicious incentives that were undercutting quality journalism, so it announced changes that favor original reporting. (An act of conscience or just a good business move? Discuss.)
High-quality news content “is original reporting that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it,” Google explained to its search quality raters last month. “Original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort. Often very high quality news content will include a description of primary sources and other original reporting referenced during the content creation.”
Here are a few tips for adjusting to Google’s new approach:
- Add to the story: If you publish information that has already appeared elsewhere, provide additional information or insights. Quote experts or skeptics. Look for connections to larger trends or issues. Check any original source documents for important items that were overlooked in the original story. Focus on any items of special significance to your core audience. (Although this guidance is about optimizing for search, it makes sense for print as well.)
- Swallow your pride: If Google really does have a bias now for original reporting, you should assume it also has a bias against use of original reporting by other sites without attribution. To be safe, link to the original reporting, even if it was published by a competitor.
- Prove it: Google is placing more emphasis than ever on trustworthiness and on primary sources. If you cite a report, news release, or article, by all means provide a link to show Google that you’re using a valid source. (Trust me, your readers will appreciate it as well. Some publishers seem to have adopted a practice of rarely, if ever, linking to other sites, which both annoys the reader and undercuts the publisher’s credibility.)
There may be an even better way to deal with other publishers’ content, but it involves ignoring everything I just suggested as well as decades of publishing tradition.
It’s simple: When someone else publishes something that’s relevant to your readers, just call it out and provide a link. That could be as simple as mentioning the item in your newsletter or posting a “what we’re reading” snippet on your site.
Publishing Executive uses an “aggregated content” approach, as exemplified here: a page on its own site with the article’s headline and the first couple of paragraphs, followed by an invitation to keep reading the full article on the original publisher’s site.
Such sites as Postalnews.com and Postalmag.com, whose founders were unencumbered by publishing tradition or journalistic egos, have built sizeable audiences almost solely by compiling links to news stories on other sites that are of interest to postal workers.
Two recent developments make this decidedly non-SEO tactic especially timely:
- “Google is now our biggest competitor,” an executive at a publisher that gets most of its traffic from Google recently told me. A Google search used to be a way of finding a web page that could answer your question. But now Google often provides the answer itself, to the detriment of publishers’ search traffic.
- Many publishers have concluded that they can’t live off the ephemeral, poorly monetized traffic from platforms like Google and Facebook. Instead, they’re focusing on their core readership with a strategy sometimes called “owning your audience” – which is spawning paywalls, a renewed emphasis on newsletters, and optimization of first-party data.
But how can you produce enough original content to “own” an audience that’s constantly bombarded with posts, tweets, texts, slacks, emails, and streams from a myriad of other sources? You don’t have to – if you set your ego aside and recognize relevant content on other sites.
After all, for those who are trying to sip from the firehose of information without being flattened by it, a trusted curator can be more prized than a favorite publisher.