Big Brand Media Wants A Google Bailout

It seems like almost everyone in Big Business is looking for a bailout these days. That’s certainly true of several big brand media companies who, according to an AdAge article today, have told Google they deserve higher rankings in Google’s search results. Not only that, but one executive has also labeled the rest of the content-producing web — including bloggers like us — as “parasites” who “benefit disproportionately” from Google’s ranking algorithm.

This collection of media companies, AdAge reports, includes The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Inc, Hearst, ESPN, and others — all of whom belong to Google’s Publishers Advisory Council.

(Did you even know Google had such a council? The article describes it as “a small, invitation-only group for professional publishers to pow-wow confidentially with the search giant.” Cue small publisher anger in 3…2…1.)

The big media companies’ complaints include:

  • Google’s search algorithm in general, which they say “penalizes paid content”
  • PageRank specifically, because it places too much of an emphasis on links
  • The appearance of Google’s search results, which hurts big brands because every result looks the same

AdAge says the publishers are pushing their Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP), a machine-readable language for indicating copyright permissions that online crawlers can understand, as a means to gain leverage on Google. But Google’s Josh Cohen recently dismissed ACAP:

“Acap only addresses the small minority of content owners and [it has] major technical issues. We can’t accept it in its current form. There are a number of challenges with Acap.”

The irony in all this, of course, is that Google’s so-called Vince update earlier this year supposedly promoted big brands that have more trust and authority than their smaller counterparts — something that should clearly benefit the complaining members of the Publishers Advisory Council.

Steve Rubel has already done a fine job of refuting the argument that big media is any more deserving of high search engine visibility than blogs just by virtue of their size. And at least one publisher quoted in the AdAge article recognizes that the media companies themselves are at least partly to blame for any lack of visibility in Google’s search results:

“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.”

Indeed. It was just two weeks ago that I wrote that the Fortune 500 is “largely invisible” in natural search. Perhaps the big media companies should be asking an SEO consultant for bailout help, not Google.

There’s more discussion on Techmeme.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Critics | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://arthurofsun arthurofsun

    I have written on the subject of biasing search results to brand on SEL before, and am very much against it.

    My key point – and actually the same one made by the article – is that big brands have an investment they have to defend and they have the $$ and market clout to do so (so why aren’t I on the publisher’s council – easy, I don’t spend millions to expand my brand). Big brands, if they are smart, can as easily manipulate the search rankings as anyone – so why give someone with large $$ to spend doing so a leg up (more than their budgets) over folks who, for example, may have something honest to say that is critical and where they are “content owners.” A Big Brand can hire reputation management firms , for example, to push critical results down the page – this bias just helps them do so.

    Google needs to maintain a “neutral point of view” in its results. It should neither favor nor reduce the power of any voice, big or small.

    As the article points out, just because CNN invests big $$ in a story doesn’t make it the “best” arbiter of what is news. The large news companies tend to operate in a very “careful” range of viewpoints – they need big audiences, and so can’t go too far afield for fear of angering one viewer segment (which includes powerful Washington interests). As a result, many times a smaller media site (eg Arianna Huffington’s site) may have a more “representative” point of view, especially for certain audiences. We just can’t afford to punish that. If we do, then we risk the web becoming another media channel dominated by a few large and powerful entities.

  • Winooski

    I’d love to hear what the New York Times’ head SEO, Marshall Simmonds, has to say about all this. I can’t imagine he’d go along with the NYT petitioning Google for their “fare share” of rankings.

  • ACAP

    Google’s Josh Cohen has indeed been recently quoted by Mark Sweney in the Guardian as saying:

    “Acap only addresses the small minority of content owners and [it has] major technical issues. We can’t accept it in its current form. There are a number of challenges with Acap.”

    This statement is, I’m afraid, misleading.

    · The idea that “Acap only addresses the small minority of content owners” is perhaps a useful mantra but it means nothing. This is like saying that the Robots Exclusion Protocol only addresses the minority of content owners, or that Creative Commons only addresses the minority of content owners. Both are true, but this tells us nothing. More than 800 sites including a growing number of very substantial content owners are now expressing their support for ACAP, and Google cannot continue to ignore this in perpetuity (however much Cohen continues to suggest that this is an insignificant minority).

    · This is not the first time that Google has suggested that there are “major technical issues” with ACAP. We are happy to repeat the invitation that we have made to Google repeatedly on this subject – we have no commitment to a specific technical implementation, and will be happy to work with Google to resolve any outstanding technical issues. Google was involved in the ACAP’s Technical Working Group from the outset, and provided invaluable technical input which strongly influenced the technical direction of ACAP specifically to simplify its implementation by search engines. We will be happy to continue this work with them, to resolve any technical issues, major or minor but remain slightly confused as to how a technical solution largely designed around their requirements in the first place could now have such, unspecified, “major issues”.

    Of course, there are “challenges” with ACAP – but these can be resolved by a determined effort to work collaboratively with that end in mind. We would welcome a resumption of substantive discussion with Google.

    Mark Bide
    Project Director, ACAP, http://www.the-acap.org

  • masonluca

    I have a hard time digesting this kind of a request from big brand Executives. Maybe if a few of these larger brands ditched their multi-million dollar budget allocation for television and print to focus on developing an in-depth digital marketing plan, with a heavy focus on SEO. If you already have an in-house team, clearly they’re not doing their job or they are lacking the necessary resources. I don’t care how large of brand you boast, put in the time along with everyone else. Such a request speaks to the laziness and lack of understanding. I lost count of the various white papers and articles I’ve come across speaking to the lack of visibility in search engines for the Fortune 500. The bill for SEO consultation would be a fraction of the cost for your 30 second prime time slot.

  • hugoguzman

    It bears mentioning that for some of these media outlets, even driving more traffic won’t save them (via SEO, Digg, etc…):

    http://blog.zetainteractive.com/?p=304

    For some of these folks, it’s not even about needing more traffic. It’s about having too much traffic while still operating under a flawed CPM model.

  • bobtotell

    This is humorous… and I may be dating myself here. When Yahoo! started as a search engine it quickly became a glorified paid phone book yellow pages, only electronic (you paid and you got top ranking for the categories you paid for). In those days we had to use our own search engine aggregators like Copernic in order to get “real” search results off of the web to avoid the paid Yahoo! corporate results.

    I’m sure everyone knows who the search engine leader is now. I’m sure everyone knows why they became the leader in the first place (“authentic” search results from the web vs. paid search results). And I’m sure everyone knows that Google became the leader because they provided actual (“authentic”) search engine results from the web – not just more paid phone book results like Yahoo!

    And now it comes full circle… Hi Google, we want to pay you to get top rankings like we used to pay Yahoo! (when they were #1). Hmmm… will Google consider changing their **entire** business philosophy for media companies so they can become another Yahoo! and then we’ll just get another Google again? Humorous…

    - Bob

  • http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com LC – BayshoreBlogger

    Great post. Totally agree. I have several clients who are very large, national brands, and they have taken the initiative to implement an SEO strategy and ensure they are visible in Google! Even big brands have to keep up with changes in marketing and technology. I doubt 2 years ago my client would not have expected to be creating a Facebook page or Twitter account, but that’s not the case now!

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