In late February, Google made some changes to it’s algorithm (apparently NOT an update), which was rumoured to assist Big Brands in achieving search rankings. Of course Google denied this vehemently, saying their algorithm doesn’t even consider brand, and that instead it is still largely based on trust, authority, reputation, high quality and page rank.
Today, Search Engine Land reports on a coalition of big brands (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Inc, Hearst, ESPN), who want Google to go further and actually explicitly help out with their rankings.
All the above brands are members of the Google Publishers network, and I suppose as they are such large members, expect to have some clout with Google. One of their main gripes is that they resent the components of Google’s algorithm, for example, Page Rank, as they think this criteria enables “parasites off the true producers of content” to benefit disproportionately.
A report by AdAge describes an example that these publishers used – When typing in Gaza into Google, apparently they were outraged that Wikipedia entries, BBC articles, The CIA Factbook entry on Gaza, a Twitter entry (bizarre) and a YouTube video ranked ahead of a Times news story on the conflict.
They were also outraged that all these results were presented in an identical manner, so that their brand could not easily be identified. Although complaining about the uniform presentation of results and the Google algorithm, (both of which aim to show no preference other than ‘relevance’ to a query), seems to be immature and displaying a lack of knowledge about the point of a search engine, the very basis of their complaint did not seem unreasonable to me. That is, that they think the original publishers of content should be rewarded for publishing it.
However, this then becomes an argument between the relative value of original and derivative content. Of course original content is necessary, because independent bloggers don’t necessarily have the clout and budget to have reporters everywhere (or even anywhere sometimes). However, derivative content often has a lot of added value which might mean that searchers prefer it to the original content. For example:
- A derivative article might summarise and link to an original article, making it more digestible.
- It often has differing perspectives, and could be seen as more impartial, when not associated with a big brand or politically friendly publisher.
- Writers of derivative content have more time to consider arguments, positions and facts due to the fact that they aren’t fighting to a deadline, so have the advantage of timely consideration.
- They are more likely able to link to many other published pieces on the subject and be an all in one resource (for example, Wikipedia).
- Derivative articles often offer interaction, allowing comments and participation.
If Google does try to continue to develop their algorithm so that original content is given a bit more help (which of course is what they are doing), that is fine, as long as it also continues to value other aspects like those listed above, that searchers also like to view.
These Big Brands could also help themselves somewhat, by doing some more SEO for their sites. One of the publishers listed in the Ad Age article acknowledged this through the following comment:
“They don’t owe us that we show up a particular way. They do publish a whole lot about how to make your site show up as much as possible. If people haven’t taken action on it, that’s their own damn fault.”