Google has tweaked its algorithm to elevate original reporting in its search results, a product change that could benefit publishers that spend on newsgathering and spell disaster for aggregated news outlets that rely on search results for digital advertising revenue.
The product update is intended to elevate original reporting in search results and surface that original reporting for longer periods of time, even as other publishers may churn out other posts aggregating or building on that original reporting, Google vice president of news Richard Gringas wrote in a blog post Thursday.
Gringas wrote that the change is intended to acknowledge the amount of “time, effort and resources” publications spend on original reporting efforts, while also working to surface the “most authoritative reporting” to Google users who are looking for news updates.
In addition to trying to elevate original reporting on individual web pages, the change will also take a publisher’s “overall reputation for original reporting” into account. This, Gringas wrote, “means readers interested in the latest news can find the story that started it all, and publishers can benefit from having their original reporting more widely seen.” Google has used and will continue to use a number of other factors to determine which websites it surfaces in search results.
Prior to the change, Google surfaced more recent and more comprehensive versions of news stories in search without taking into account if the article was from the publication that originally broke the news.
Google plans to continue fine-tuning the update. Gringas acknowledged that “there is no absolute definition of original reporting” and no universal standard “for establishing how original a given article is,” which could complicate the efforts.
How the update will affect the digital publishing ecosystem remains to be seen, as it often takes several weeks for outlets to notice the long-tail effects algorithm changes may have on website traffic.
For news outlets that invest heavily in original reporting efforts, the update could placate years of complaints that the financial benefits of original reporting have been stymied when other publishers aggregating their news siphon off pageviews and negatively affect digital advertising revenue or the possibility of converting readers into subscribers.
Established news outlets that have a history of original reporting seem most likely to benefit: In the blog post, Gringas pointed to original stories from outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, ESPN and The Hollywood Reporter to illustrate the kinds of reporting it had in mind.
But the news could pose problems for national and local publications that rely on the ad revenue they generate from aggregated news posts that are designed to appear at the top of Google search results. Some of those outlets have been categorized as “content farms,” which are designed to capitalize off of automated search engine results and churn out large quantities of low-quality and often aggregated content.
The change underscores the vulnerable position of publishers that rely on major tech platforms to reach their audiences. Facebook in 2018 changed its algorithm to de-prioritize news content, a move that had major ramifications across the publishing industry. Some outlets shut down because of the change, which they said left them financially devastated.