An interesting debate is brewing around Google’s mystery-shrouded page-ranking system. Some big name media companies are lobbying for Google to give them increased weight in search results over blogs and other Web sites sourcing their news, AdvertisingAge reports. BusinessWeek, ESPN, Hearst, Meredith, The New York Times, Time Inc., and The Wall Street Journal are among the publishers said to be included in the efforts.
An unnamed executive argued the case by suggesting those “who are essentially parasites off the true producers of content benefit disproportionately” in the current Google ranking system.
Don’t Misread This
Here’s where the argument has been misconstrued, though: The media giants aren’t asking for automatic preferential treatment based on their brand names alone, as some commentators have suggested. Rather, according to AdAge, the publishers are asking for original content providers — whether it’s them, a blog, or whomever — to receive an elevated result.
“This would in no way mean that only professional content publishers would get an advantage,” another unnamed executive is quoted as saying. “It really just says that the original source, and the source with real access, should somehow be recognized as the most important in the delivery of results.”
Google, for its part, has indicated it does place some value on original content but also looks at other factors. (How enlightening.) A spokesperson told AdAge there are “many shades of gray” even within the designation of “original content.”
The subject is expected to be discussed at a meeting of Google’s Publishers Advisory Council at the end of April.
I could understand an outrage if the media companies were asking for preferential treatment based on their names alone. The idea of giving stronger weight to an original content provider, however, seems to me to be a reasonable enough concept. While secondary sources often provide valuable alternate perspectives to news coverage, it is sensible to say — from both a content provider perspective and an end-user perspective — that the publication that broke the news should be credited as such. As long as the weight is given equally for any original content provider, be it a major media site or an independent blog site, I think it’s a notion worth Google’s consideration.
With that being said, of course, no single factor can determine search ranking. Without having any direct knowledge of the workings of Google’s current system, though, I can say from anecdotal experience that being an original provider often doesn’t seem to be significantly rewarded within results. It’s impossible to surmise how much that designation does play into a rank, or even how that designation is determined. As long as Google keeps its transparency curtain closed, we’ll never know the specifics of what really goes on or whether it changes over time.