In a post on the official Google News Blog, Google has warned publishers that publishing content that fails to clearly discriminate between editorial and advertising may harm their ranking and Google News SEO.
The decline of traditional advertising revenue has forced publishers to devise new methods of generating income from their content. One of the methods that has rapidly gained popularity in recent months is known as native advertising. Native advertising is akin to the traditional advertorial. Promotional posts are published with much of the same context as editorial content. While such articles may include a low-key notification that they are promotional content, they almost exactly resemble the other output of a site.
While bloggers are well acquainted with the promotional guest post, there is intense controversy surrounding the use of native advertising on more traditional news platforms. The Atlantic recently generated a storm when it published a glowing article about Scientology without making it clear that it had been paid for and wasn’t objective editorial.
Similar flurries of discontent resulted from Buzz Feed, Gawker and The Huffington Post’s native advertising experiments. Traditionally, publishers have been — in theory, at least — careful to separate their editorial content from their advertising, for obvious reasons. As the Google News blog article points out:
It’s difficult to be trusted when one is being paid by the subject of an article, or selling or monetizing links within an article.
Although more honoured in the breach than in the observance, editorial independence is held as the defining virtue of journalistic integrity. If readers can’t tell the difference between editorial content and paid-for promotion, then all of that publisher’s content comes under suspicion.
What goes for human readers also applies to search engine algorithms. Google strives to ensure that Google News is a valuable resource for people in search of news, and that means keeping advertising and promotional content out. If its crawlers can’t distinguish between the two then the value of Google News to its readers declines significantly.
So, Google has decided to fire a warning shot at publishers, making it clear that if they become aware of an egregious lack of discrimination between editorial and promotional content, they may impose manual penalties on sites, even going so far as to delist some sites. Google News is a huge generator of traffic for these sites, but once the traffic gets to a site, publishers need some means of monetizing it, which puts them in something of quandary and will no doubt exacerbate the already tense relationship between Google and traditional publishers.