Google News Lets Users Drop Blogs

If your blog depends on traffic from Google News, you need to know about some changes the search engine made to its popular service. With the new options it gives to Google News readers, you might experience a serious decrease in visitors.

Danny Sullivan noted the change over at Search Engine Land, complete with pictures. Google News users can go to their settings page and control the quantity of results they get from certain sources. These sources are Blogs and Press Releases.

By default, Google set everyone using the service to see a “Normal” quantity of results from blogs and press releases. But users can choose to see “none,” “fewer,” or “more” results from each of those sources. What does this mean for publishers?

That’s a good question, but it’s difficult to answer without asking others. The first one that comes to mind is, “what is a blog?” Sullivan pointed out that Google started classifying some news sources as blogs more than a year and half ago. But what rules do they follow to determine that a particular source is a blog?

If the rules for Google News and Google Blog Search are consistent with each other, then anything with an RSS feed would count as a blog. That can’t be right, though, because lots of newspapers have taken to using RSS feeds to get the word out about new articles – and not just opinion pieces, either. The New York Times boasts an RSS feed, and permits comments on many of its items. That doesn’t make the site a blog, though some of its pieces do fall under that classification (and Google designates them as such).

There’s a larger concern that goes with the potential for misclassification – one that Sullivan implies but never explicitly states. It’s the assumption that Google News readers, given a choice, will opt to see fewer news sources that are blogs and press releases. They may even opt to see no blogs or press releases. While that may not turn out to be true, it’s a valid concern. When I want the basic facts, I read news; when I want analysis and entertainment, I read blogs. If I’m trying to catch up with what’s happening in the world, seeing lots of blogs can get in the way.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that I would actively opt to see fewer blogs when I’m browsing Google News. Google actually labels blogs as such in Google News results, with the word “blog” in parentheses next to the name of the story’s source. Both of these appear discreetly under the headline. That lets me decide on the spot which way I want to experience a story: as if it came from Dan Rather, or Jon Stewart.

Despite the stories we’ve all seen about some blogs getting to the heart of a news item or scandal that the regular press declined to report on (or got wrong), and the praised sometimes heaped on “citizen journalists,” many bloggers still fight for respect. Really, that’s as it should be; not all bloggers hold themselves to the high standards of journalists (not all journalists do, either, but I digress). If Google calls you a blog on its Google News service, then, does that make you a second-class news source in the eyes of your potential audience? Worse, with this new option, will they not even see your content at all when they read Google News?

That’s certainly possible. Fortunately, there may be something you can do about it, if you think your site has been erroneously labeled a blog in error. Sullivan pointed to a form that publishers can use to report an issue with how the search engine has classified their content. If you’re not happy with how Google views your content, it’s certainly worth a try. Sullivan noted that Google has long classified his site as a blog, but this latest move makes him not want to be painted with that brush any longer, “especially when we are arguably also a news source.”

Whatever you decide to do, if you’re a publisher, you may want to pay closer attention to your traffic over the next few months. Watch both the level of traffic and from where it’s coming. If Google labels you a blog, and you see a decline in traffic from Google News, the new option could be playing a role.

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