Saying no to Google News: common sense or suicide?

Brazilian newspapers have, en masse, withdrawn their content from Google News.

The response, not least from Google itself, is the usual mix of unhelpful and self-interested grandstanding. Google’s comparison of themselves to a cab driver bringing customers to a restaurant is particularly absurd, since most restaurants want customers who can pay, and aren’t interested in being flooded with people who can’t or won’t.

For me, the best thing about this move is it will create some real evidence which can be used in place of all the posturing and crystal-ball gazing which normally accompanies any discussion of the merits or otherwise of having content in Google search results.

The bald facts are pretty stark for most newspapers.

If they’re ad-funded, the majority of their revenue is generated by a relatively small proportion of their users. More traffic does not mean more money, necessarily.

Traffic from Google, or Google News, is of varying value and in many cases a large proportion of it is close to zero value to the newspaper. It neither delivers a significant direct income from ad sales, because of excess inventory, nor does the user go on to become a loyal and frequent visitor. Often, users are satisfied with the content they see on Google News and don’t visit at all. Even when they do, their next move is straight back out of the site again – so called “drive by” visitors.

Last time I looked at actual logs it was clear that the visitors most likely to become loyal were ones who used your actual newspaper title in their search terms. In other words having your home page in search engines was enough to target the most attractive potential visitors.

So if your goal is to focus on those users who might become loyal and frequent, high-value, visitors (the actual paying restaurant customers, in Google’s analogy), you might want to experiment with trying to control who comes and who exploits your content. In the real world it is called marketing, knowing your customer, having a strategy for targeting the people you’re most interested in. Withdrawing from Google News, given that so little revenue accrues from it, is a low risk thing to do and will potentially deliver much valuable data to help separate fact from speculation.

If, into the bargain, Google values your content enough to really want it, then maybe they will sit down and discuss a deal. If not, nobody has lost anything, and once you have learned enough you can decide if, how and when to put some or all of your content back into search.

I look forward to seeing what happens, and am pleased to see someone actually do something instead of just endlessly talking about it.

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