Google changed its news story selection algorithm to better recognize original reporting, surface it more prominently in search results and ensure it stays there longer, explains Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president of news, in a blog post. Readers interested in the latest news can find the story that “started it all.”
While focused on news, the update will also apply to general search results. Depending on the query, search results often show fresh, news -related content. The change will also impact Google Discover, topics that Google thinks will interest viewers even if they are not searching for them at the time.
If it works as planned, the new algorithm should encourage established news organizations to produce more original content of substance in order to gain better placements on Google News, increase website traffic, and increase paid subscriptions or advertising revenue. It may also encourage publications to focus on “hot button” topics that have high numbers of searches on Google News. Conversely, the algorithm change may prompt news sources to neglect important but more obscure topics. The ability of news organizations to produce original content has been hampered by faltering economics of news publication and the declining number of journalists. PR can serve a role in alerting daily news sources and trade publications about emerging stories.
Many articles, such as investigations or exclusive interviews, generate follow-up coverage from other publications. In what some deride as churnalism, writers repeat the work of others and add little or no new reporting or insight.
Those follow-up articles often largely rehash the original story but may rank higher than the original story through strong search engine optimization. They may gain more website traffic than the original publisher through a click-bait headline, a stronger name recognition, use of video in the story or advanced SEO. Broadcast stations have long rehashed news from morning print publications.
The Google News algorithm update may prompt public relations professionals to pitch exclusive interviews and new research reports to key publications. PR pros may treat smaller publications, which may lack sophisticated SEO but may tend to view the brand more positively, more favorably. PR teams may also place a greater priority on posting original content on corporate online newsrooms – if the new algorithm recognizes the owned media as the story originator and ranks it highly in news feeds. That remains to be seen.
For stories that don’t have a direct effect on stock price, the new algorithm would seem to validate the relatively recent PR tactic of placing a story in a key publication before issuing a press release.
A Better Experience or More Controversy?
“This change in policy should be good for writers, website owners, and consumers,” predicts Peter Roesler, president of Web Marketing Pro, in Inc. With the update, search results will show fewer duplicated articles. Writers will feel more motivation to add substance to articles.
“If all goes as planned, both readers and writers get a better experience,” Roesler says.
But editors at The Verge predict the algorithm update will prove unpopular. It could encourage publications to post articles faster, before confirming information. Accuracy may suffer. Not all good journalism is breaking news. In-depth, thoughtful research may rank lower. Not knowing how the update will really impact search results and web traffic, journalists will feel greater angst. And even if the algorithm works well, which is questionable, politicians and their advocates will undoubtedly criticize Google as biased.
There’s no absolute definition of original reporting and no standard for establishing how original an article is, Gingras concedes, saying Google’s ratings will continue to evolve. The company has sent updated guidelines its 10,000 raters worldwide who evaluate its algorithms (not specific search results). Their feedback will help improve its news results over time.
Search results, he says, will show the latest and most comprehensive articles along with significant original reporting.
Bottom Line: Google’s decision to favor original reporting in its news results will influence public relations strategies. PR pros will prioritize pitching exclusive content and interviews to respected publications.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.