Google News: How can it help you?

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Google News has been up to a lot lately, and publishers are trying to dissect how the changes can help their businesses. I spoke with Josh Cohen, senior product manager for Google News, who offered some perspective about how the site is trying to work with publishers. The key takeaways: Google News is trying to go beyond being an algorithmic traffic driver to be more engaging ― and maybe even find a way to monetize that traffic, though it's not clear yet how.

Paywall: not “official,” but being considered

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica first reported that Google is recruiting publishers for a new paid content system called Newspass to launch by the end of the year. Cohen wouldn't confirm the system, saying “there's nothing specific to announce,” but he says there is an ongoing discussion with publishers about offering a paid content platform.

Cohen says publishers have shown interest in leveraging a similar system to Google Books, which allows consumers to purchase books. "We've had discussions with publishers dating back over a year or so,” he says. “This is part of a broader discussion of general ways of working together."

The paywall plans might be vague, but Google has been rolling out other changes to its News site. Traditionally the site has been useful to publishers as a traffic driver, but Google is now looking beyond bringing clicks.

"I do think we're doing more in other areas, whether it's engagement or monetization,” Cohen says.

Bringing back serendipity

Customization has been a big push at Google News. The site has been unveiling features to allow the audience to personalize the content the view and consume, including:

  • News for You ― Users can customize the news they see on the Google News Page by specifying how much they are interested in certain types of news and news sources. Cohen says the personalization aspect helps bring in the element of newspaper serendipity: “When you pick up the newspaper and you see a random article ― how do you capture some of that online?"
  • Spotlight ― For users who want to stumble on more in-depth news, this section is “updated periodically with news and in-depth pieces of lasting value,” according to the site. Cohen explains the section is algorithmically determined but has a longer shelf life than more timely news.
  • Fast Flip ―  Google introduced Fast Flip as a Google Labs experiment last year. The idea is to allow users to browse bundles of recent news like they would with a print magazine. The content also takes cues from selections a reader makes, and then shows more content from those news sources, topics and journalists.

The regular Google News algorithm tends to lean toward newsy content, which benefits a certain section of publishers. Cohen says the new tools offer more opportunity to display non-breaking-news articles that didn't get as much traffic before ― giving the reader the ability to go below the surface. "A lot of the initiatives we are doing now broadens the content,” he says.

Bringing back editors

Google also recently rolled out an experiment called Editor's Picks, in which editors at a diverse collection of news organizations are asked to curate some of their top picks. Cohen says for now the feature is limited to a small section of publishers, but if it proves successful, Google will provide it to all of its publishing partners.

Similar to Spotlight and other new features, the experiment adds another way for users to be introduced to content, while bringing a journalistic element to the computer-driven Google News. As the Nieman Journalism Lab put it, it's like “serendipity, systemized.”

"It's that same idea of exposing more content to our users," Cohen says.

Because Google isn't a content provider, the search giant obviously has a huge incentive to help publishers build their content. “We see the relationship that we have with publishers as a symbiotic one,” Cohen says. “We recognize that we absolutely get value from our ability to index content ... Without publishers creating content out there, we don't have much of a product.”

On the flip side, he adds, publishers want to be discovered and Google News can help them reach thousands of users across the web ― in ways that are continuing to evolve.

"Google News is only successful if it's relevant and useful to our users ― if we do a good job with that, that benefits publishers as well," Cohen says. 

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