Herald Sun’s Logies Leak and How Google News Works

The Herald Sun leaking the 2012 gold Logie winner is useful for understanding how Google News works differently to regular Google.

The Herald Sun/Logies incident is very useful for pointing out the different ways Google approaches the indexing of general websites as compared to the indexing of news websites. For those unfamiliar with Google’s ranking algorithms, the big shift Google introduced in the 2000s was to rank web pages based on the number of inbound links. Of course, there is no point trying to rank news website content on the number of inbound links as the point of news is to be ‘breaking’ therefore it won’t have any inbound links at all. News website publishers can either let Google figure out their news content or they can submit a sitemap.

How Google News Works

Google ranks news websites based on a number of factors. Google says: There are no human editors selecting stories or deciding which ones deserve top placement. Ranking in Google News is determined based on a number of factors, including:

•Freshness of content
•Diversity of content
•Rich textual content
•Originality of content

It makes me wonder about whether there are alternative strategies for maximising traffic within a single news-based website. Do news website designers think about how much traffic they think they’ll get from Google News searches as compared to the traffic from Google ‘search everything’ searches? Why is this important? The design strategies for maximising user activity and time on site will be different for a regular website as compared to news website when both are trying to maximise ranking on the search engine results page (SERP). Over the weekend I asked on twitter if any news websites have a hybrid approach, with some sections (‘channels’ or ‘verticals’) classified as ‘news’ and optimised for Google News and other sections designed to cluster or curate ‘news’ content and SEO for Google ‘search everything’. I’m very interested to find out if anyone has approached the Google everything/news problem like this. For example, the Guardian sometimes has ‘project’ pages that bring together a series of different stories about a single topic, but I am not sure if this is designed as a hybrid SEO approach. Here is the Reading the Riots series page.

The other possibility is that Google indexes news content as general web content after a certain period of time, but I have not found any information about this in Google’s support information.

Last week in Online News we discussed the tension that exists between editorial judgment based on ‘journalistic gut feeling’ and a publishing strategy organised around search engine optimisation. Students were introduced to Google Analytics and I went through a brief history of online metrics. The history is a brief but important one and tracks the development of online metrics from early use of ‘hits’ (up to mid-2000s) to slightly more sophisticated appreciation of ‘unique visitors’ to the contemporary approach that draws on both ‘website analytics’ combined with ‘user analytics’. The two main ways that ‘editorial quality’ is judged with online media enterprises is in terms of the number of ‘unique visitors’ or ‘time on page/site’. I am sure both are tracked by most online publishers, but ‘time on page/site’ is more important for a super-niche market media outlets. ‘User analytics’ relies on users logging into unique accounts so specific activity for individuals can be aggregated into marketable chunks for ad sales teams.

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