Googles paid news link ‘discrimination’

Rather surprisingly when it comes to news reporting, free and paid content is treated differently by the ranking programmes. Paid content doesn’t tend to get the same level of ‘audience’ as free content.

What’s the problem? 

A lot of Google’s argument for this is down to something called the ‘pay wall’ – i.e. the point at which you need to pay for something before you read or proceed further.  Some news sites paywalls allow users to read a selection of the article, while others do not. In the case of the latter Google becomes concerned since there is a general consensus amongst society that what is searched for through Google can be read. Google then becomes worried that this will damage its image and popularity as internet surfers may give google ‘the blame’ for directing them to a site they can’t read or must pay for.

The redress?

The attempt at solving the problem has been found and does work well (but not always!) Google came up with the ‘first click free’ idea. This does exactly what it may sound like on the tin – anyone who originates from a google page onto a paid news site can have their first click (this will allow them some access,) but any subsequent clicks would have to be paid for as the paywall becomes active. There are plenty of issues with this. Many news sites are not aware this even exists, and some simply choose not to follow it.

Those that don’t potentially miss out, since they lose the flow of the google traffic. The flip side of this argument (from the news site’s perspective,) is that by allowing any form of free content, this takes the meaning away of having paid content in a readers eyes, since it can all be free (on the first click)– an argument also true. Google too has attempted to even get round this by adding ‘subscription’ tags next to the search result if the company does not allow for first click free. This sort of acts as a clever incentive for the companies to adhere to Google, as they will suffer from some kind of ‘psychological penalty’ otherwise. I.e. If the searcher sees they have to pay for something before the first click, they are less likely to click the link / site at all.

The reverse

As we have mentioned, take any other area – films, TV programmes, music etc and some content you will have to pay for, indeed there is an expectation for this. Google is more than happy to show paid and non-paid sites in this example.

Possibly the problem lies in attitude? We expect news to be free yet we perfectly accept films and music need payment (although of course we all like everything free if we can get it!) Equally google may think the searcher does not like the idea of paid news, yet is not so bothered about other forms of paid media and this is why it chooses to make a distinction. It becomes a circle where one thinks one thing, and the other does something based on that – change never happens.

Time for uniformity?

There is certainly a call for this and it would be logical given the comparison to everything else. Whether it would be popular is a different matter, and this is what Google is most worried about. Some argue that news will always be free because of social media and the ease at which information is circulated today.

Ultimately whatever happens, someone will suffer a short term disadvantage – searcher, Google or news company?

To learn more about google and its relationship to SEO, visit our dedicated organic search management section.