News publications having “sponsored content “deals are on the rise, and Google’s apparently concerned enough that it’s issued a warning today that publishers should keep such content out of Google News.
In a post today on the Google News blog, the company writes:
If a site mixes news content with affiliate, promotional, advertorial, or marketing materials (for your company or another party), we strongly recommend that you separate non-news content on a different host or directory, block it from being crawled with robots.txt, or create a Google News Sitemap for your news articles only.
Otherwise, if we learn of promotional content mixed with news content, we may exclude your entire publication from Google News.
Why such a warning now? Consider this:
See that article about how wireless is changing health care, from the Washington Post? It is from the Post. But it wasn’t written by the Post. It was written by the CTIA, a wireless trade group:
CTIA paid to have its content placed within the Washington Post as part of the Post’s new Brand Connect service, launched earlier this month. It goes from CTIA, into the Post and into Google News, as if it’s from the Washington Post. And, Google clearly doesn’t like that.
So take heed, publishers, as more of you consider sponsored content. Keep it out of Google News, or Google News may kick you out of the service.
Postscript (March 28): Ina Steiner from EcommerceBytes has been in touch via email, Twitter and in the comments to say this was all triggered by a story from that site written two days ago, looking at how news sites are using affiliate links more in their content and assuming this post from Google is aimed at curbing that activity.
Maybe. But I hadn’t seen that story, nor did it fit in with what I was already seeing in terms of sponsored content within news sites that the post did (and does) seem targeted at.
EcommerceBytes gives an example of this story out of Business Insider called “15 Of The Most Sarcastic Amazon Product Reviews Ever” as ecommerce being brought into news, and the story later quotes Google as saying:
“We take seriously our mission to provide the best possible experience for those seeking useful and timely news information and make clear that Google News is not a marketing service,” Brack wrote in an email, declining to comment further.
Maybe two days later, Google did decide this was an issue enough that it needed to do a reminder blog post. But if so, that’s odd. Google doesn’t have a problem with affiliate links, even if they are in a story about the 15 stupidest Amazon reviews or if they are using a service like VigLinks or Skimlinks, which can turn words into affiliate links.
The reason it doesn’t is because in most cases, it has already said it discounts those links: Google’s Matt Cutts On Affiliate Links: We Handle Majority Of Them.
It specifically gave the all clear to VigLink: VigLink: Fire & Forget Solution To Turn Outbound Links Into Affiliate Earners.
I sure wouldn’t expect Google to single out VigLink-rival SkimLinks as the “bad one,” given that Google Ventures backs VigLink. That would look pretty bad for Google, saying a competing product is bad when clearing one you’ve invested in.
Google’s chief concern with affiliate links has been whether they are used as a way to push paid links to build rankings, given links are effectively used as votes by Google, a way to figure out what should rank higher. That’s why it warned about advertorial content last month: After Penalizing Interflora & UK Newspapers, Google Warns Against Advertorials.
I don’t recall Google ever having before said that just having an affiliate link in an article might somehow reduce it to the degree it shouldn’t be in Google News. In contrast, look at the wording of yesterday’s post, it seems aimed at what I wrote about with sponsored content:
It’s difficult to be trusted when one is being paid by the subject of an article, or selling or monetizing links within an article….
If a site mixes news content with affiliate, promotional, advertorial, or marketing materials (for your company or another party)….
Yes, affiliate content is mentioned — but “affiliate materials” not affiliate links. The “selling or monetizing links” part is perhaps more relevant to the affilate situation, but since Google had previously said it was catching the majority of affiliate links automatially, it seems more relevant to the issue of paid links, links purchased mainly for a ranking boost.
I am checking with Google to see if they can shed more light.
Postscript 2: Google told me that the post it did yesterday was a “reminder post” similar to what it posted in February, warning against advertorial content.
From this, I don’t think publishers need to worry if they have affiliate links from major, recognized programs in their news stories, or if they use programs like VigLink or SkimLinks that create such links. That, alone, doesn’t seem like it would get you banned.
I do think that if someone creates content lacking any real news value, affiliate links or not, that will be an issue for Google News.