Why Google is good for journalism
It's time for news publishers to get over their anxiety about Google and embrace the search economy. Magazines and newspapers that are not actively competing for audience share (and revenue) on search engines are doing their brand, journalists and readers a disservice.
When a publisher's high-quality content is optimized for search, everyone should win. Users have a better search experience when quality journalism appears at the top of the search results. Search advertisers benefit from appearing in well researched, information-rich content. And publishers can benefit from previously
untapped revenue streams.
Still, to many in online publishing, Google is a foe -- a “digital vampire … sucking the blood” out of the news business, as Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton famously put it last year.
News Corp itself has threatened to delist from Google. In 2009, the Associated Press made headlines when it too blamed Google for "stealing" traffic based on the way the search giant links to stories.
In contrast, The New York Times recently announced that it will ensure that its "metered model" keeps content available via search, after a fashion, allowing sharing by bloggers and through various social networking sites. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger has said The Times remains committed to the search economy, in what he calls the “inter-connectivity of the web.”
All these leading publishers have valid concerns about Google’s unique sway over the search arena, but despite the varying rhetoric and News Corp’s full paywall rollout in the UK, none has seriously or irrevocably cut the cord with Google, nor are they likely to.
And they shouldn’t, because Google and other major search engines are the most valuable lead-generation vehicles they could hope for. In light of the tremendous traffic and revenue opportunities which are possible when content is optimized for search -- at $11 billion in U.S. advertising spend last year, according to Needham Insights, paid search is twice as large as display and growing faster than display -- it’s clear that Google may actually be a boon for journalism.
In a keynote at Web 2.0 in San Francisco, Danny Sullivan stressed that Google gives as much as it takes. While it collects a healthy toll from ads on its search-results pages without guaranteeing clickthrough to news sites, it is not necessarily preventing direct visits and, in fact, is responsible for driving billions of page views to sites for free. In 2009, Forbes reported that Google sends as many as 1 billion clicks a month to newspapers, which equals close to 400 visits a
Harnessing the search traffic
Opportunity, then, lies in harnessing Google, not in shutting it off. Sullivan noted, “As much or more than they take, they are giving back in traffic, for free.” The biggest issue is “how to monetize that traffic.”
Publishers need to embrace the competitive atmosphere of the search economy, with the realization that the majority of Web users prefer to find information through search engines, and the confidence that their content needs to reach this majority every day. The alternatives are already here – content factories like Demand Media, Yahoo’s Associated Content and AOL’s Seed, which provide so much cheap content that users may soon forget the value and importance of content that takes serious time and money to create.
To that end, Google and other search engines actually want news stories at the top of their search results. It’s a small percentage of overall content, but it’s a star attraction. James Fallows of the Atlantic recently reported common views of premium news at the Googleplex: "If news organizations stop producing great journalism, says one Google executive, the search engine will no longer have interesting content to link to.”
Advertisers also benefit from search-optimized quality journalism: High-quality content attracts high-quality consumers. An analysis by my company, Perfect Market, based on Compete.com data suggests that brand sites have a unique earning advantage over non-brand sites – often 10 times the revenue per page.
What premium publishers have often not done – and the content factories are racing to do – is spend time promoting their content around user demand on search engines.
When the right content is served to the right user at the right time, publishers, advertisers and search engines profit. Google ultimately needs great content to survive. It’s unfortunate that Google’s dominance often leaves many publishers feeling taken advantage of. But their best response is to take advantage of Google – and take their content and advertising to where the largest audience lives.