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Opinion

Facebook vs. Google vs. You: How your privacy became the ball everyone’s fighting over

It’s common knowledge that Facebook (or “Meta” if you prefer) likes to track you around the internet, seeing where you go, what you look at, and then use that information to help target advertising.

It’s actually a pretty useful system if you’re an advertiser; you can target very specific groups of people and advertise to them for comparatively small amounts of money. Arguably it has powered the growth of many small businesses, and definitely some large ones, especially in the past two years where lockdown has transformed the way we do business and sell online.

I’ve used Facebook advertising many times for clients (in my past life in digital marketing) and for myself (in my current double life as an author). There’s no question that, done properly, it works.

The key is the accuracy and granularity of the targeting. Did you know it’s possible to target men in the UK, between 25 and 45, who like Doctor Who and reading? I do, because that’s almost exactly how I target my advertising when I have a new book to promote. If it’s a book aimed at younger readers, I sometimes switch gender and target the mums, mixing together some Doctor Who with Harry Potter and suitably parental type interests. It’s staggeringly easy, but it only works because we’ve been willingly (even if unwittingly) giving Facebook this kind of high-value data for years.

An important component in Facebook advertising is re-marketing; targetting people who have been to your website with more advertising for your website when they return to Facebook. All it takes is the addition of a small chunk of code to your website and you are instantly able to start targeting your audience. You’ve also just turned your website into a listening post in Facebook’s vast, global intelligence gathering network.

This was all shady enough when it was happening on our computers, but Facebook took it to another level when they adopted a “mobile first” strategy back in 2012. Some pundits thought that Facebook was late to this party but, even if they were, they certainly understood the party a lot better than others when they arrived at it. Location data added a whole new and unprecedented facet to Facebook’s advertising might; combined with the information of who our family and friends were, Facebook could now calculate what we might be interested in before we even knew it ourselves.

How does Facebook know things I didn’t tell Facebook?

Facebook isn’t listening to your conversations. It’s been tested and proven that they aren’t. The truth is actually a whole lot scarier…

Here’s a rough sketch of how it works…

Facebook knows who you are and knows what you’ve been looking at on the internet lately. Let’s say it’s a new car. Facebook knows who you are spending time with because they know where you are, where other people are, and which of those people are your friends. If you’re considering a big purchase, like a car, chances are good that you are discussing this purchase with your friends. So, maybe Facebook would be on to a good thing if it showed adverts for that car you like the look of to your friends, right?

Facebook might even know if you make that purchase, as they love to gobble up data about our purchases from our credit card providers and they know, of course, if you’ve made a purchase through Facebook Marketplace, a Facebook Ad, or Instagram.

(And, because of the way the offline data is acquired, they even know things about you if you’ve never even had a Facebook account…)

According to a recent article by Vox, Facebook and other big-data based companies are even working on algorithms that can predict the end of your relationship. (And, if that doesn’t creep you out, read The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick, which includes the nightmare-inducing claim that Mark Zuckerberg created an algorithm in college to predict which of his friends would “hook up”. It was 33% accurate. That’s the guy calling the shots at Meta and Facebook)

Enter Apple and a Game Changing Privacy Wall

Facebook’s insatiable lust for data and the powerful tools it builds and puts into the hands of just about anyone with a credit card have had serious negative impacts on society; elections have been influenced, the course of referendums changed, and today dangerous disinformation still runs rampant across the platform. The people behind these things have all taken advantage of Facebook’s unprecedented influence machine.

Finally, regulators and legislators are taking note. More importantly than that, consumers are taking note as well, as people are starting to question just what happens to their data and how social media platforms work behind the scenes.

Apple has been the first of the big-tech companies to identify the inherent opportunity here. In the potentially unique position of not being reliant on huge amounts of data about its user to turn a profit, Apple was able to make a strong play out of protecting its users’ privacy by blocking the kind of tracking facilities that Facebook relies on for monitoring its users on the iPhone. For once, Apple’s vice-like hold on the software running on its phones proved to be a huge boon for consumers as it wiped out Facebooks tracking capability in a single software patch. This one simple move hit Facebook’s profit margin by over $10 billion whilst also positioning Apple as the consumer’s champion on privacy and security.

Your move, Google

Apple sells 1 in 3 smartphones worldwide, so Facebook doesn’t need to worry… right? After all, there are still all those lovely Android users out there and, thanks to the fragmentation in the Android mobile phone market there are plenty of phones in use today that aren’t running the latest version of Android and won’t be getting an update any time soon.

Well, maybe not. Google recently announced wide-ranging privacy changes of their own, including bringing an end to third-party tracking and data sharing in apps. It’s a super-fine line for Google to tread as they, like Facebook, rely on advertising as a major source of revenue and use copious amounts of user data to improve targeting and advertising effectiveness. In their blog post, Google (Alphabet) went to some pains to stress that they were not taking the “blunt approach” of others (e.g. Apple) and were committed to helping advertisers transition to new, privacy focussed technologies.

Google themselves are having real problems weaning their systems off intrusive user tracking. The most recent attempt, Federated Learning Of Cohorts (or FLoC) was roundly panned and quickly killed off. Its replacement, “Topics”, isn’t really much better – it still takes your browsing history and infers your interests from it and whilst the topic groups are allegedly broad, that doesn’t really answer the question of why Google should be looking at your browsing history at all. It’s a question being asked in the American Congress, in the EU, by a growing movement of activists, experts, and consumers, and by the UK government, all of whom have expressed an aim to see an end to all behaviourally targetted advertising.

Enter… Nick Clegg?

Yes, sliding in from stage left to take a leading role as one of Facebook’s “Big Three” (alongside Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg) is Sir Nick Clegg, former deputy Prime Minister of the UK and the man so famous for his lack of integrity that there is a Wikipedia page explaining his role in triggering student riots in the UK after going back on a manifesto pledge not to introduce student tuition fees.

Deployed by Facebook to lobby governments worldwide, he’s already in the spotlight as Facebook seeks to challenge Google over its right to implement privacy controls in the Android operating system. Incredibly, I find myself realizing that Facebook has a point – Google blocking other forms of tracking but allowing their own (Topics – which others can then plug into via an API and presumably for a fee) does have all the hallmarks of a classic piece of anti-competitive market monopolization. As odious as Facebook’s tracking of users is, surely it needs to be an “all or nothing” situation; how can it be right for one company to track you, but not another?

It’s going to be a fascinating time in the digital advertising space and I can’t decide if I’m very, very glad not to be in it right now (and having to explain to clients why their campaigns aren’t working how they used to) or whether I’m going to feel like I’m missing out not being in the thick of this fight.

Ultimately, the late 2020s may be the time when personalized, behavioral advertising finally dies. Who knows, we might just have to get creative with our advertising campaigns again to compensate….

Actually, we saw the warning signs back in 2007… isn’t it really time to stop trusting Google now?

When the news broke that Google had lost its appeal against the 2017 ruling that deemed it had “self-preferenced” its own services in search results, breaking EU antitrust rules, I was fortunate enough to see this excellent post from Thomas Höppner (Partner at Hausfeld & Professor of Law at TH Wildau) appear in my LinkedIn feed.

For those of you who don’t use Microsoft’s weird corporate version of Facebook LinkedIn, here’s what he had to say:

In a word… legend. Well done Thomas, from all of us who want a fairer internet. (Or, in my case, can remember a fairer internet and want it back).

In 2020, we saw the warning signs. In 2021, is it time to stop trusting Google?

Towards the start of this year, Rand Fishkin’s SparkToro caused a minor Internet storm when they highlighted that two thirds of Google searches ended without a click.

SEOs were outraged. Some were outraged with Google for stealing traffic whilst others were outraged with SparkToro; complaining about what they claimed was shoddy analysis and a questionable conclusion. Eventually, this prompted a second tweet from Fishkin to address some of these issues.

Ultimately, I found myself on SparkToro’s side of the fence. Sure, Google is sending more traffic than ever to websites… but isn’t there just more traffic than ever anyway? It’s like claiming that the best year ever for slipper sales was 2020 without acknowledging that we really didn’t need shoes as much that year.

One of the big problems with SEO is the gap between what SEOs say to the outside world and what they say to each other. There’s a rush to say the “right thing” and a stampede to crush out voices that speak some of the uncomfortable truths.

Behind the scenes of the industry though, there was definite unrest and several SEOs shared with me their secret fear – if clients stop trusting Google, how can they keep those clients spending money on SEO?

And trust is a theme that has continued to dog Google all the way through 2021.

Google lost its 2.4 billion Euro antitrust case with the EU, found guilty of manipulating the contents of search results to promote their own products over those of competitors – a concept known as “self preferencing”. Of course, Google is likely to appeal this decision up to the ECJ; this case is in fact already an appeal to a 2017 ruling made on the basis of a complaint almost a decade before.

So, the EU is slow, the law is an ass, and there’s nothing new under the sun… or is there?

One thing that I noticed in stark contrast to the start of 2021, when I saw SEOs rallying to defend Google, was that now they are lining up to call on Google to put its house in order. The tech press, equally, has been pretty damning – maybe because their own publications have been left fighting for crumbs of advertising revenue thanks to Google News.

What comes next? Well, assuming that Google doesn’t win its appeal (or the appeal after that or the appeal after that…) then being forced to play fair on shopping could be just the start. Google has pushed into hotel bookings, job search, and a number of other sectors, all at the cost of other businesses that were happily occupying those markets before Google came crashing in…

Is it possible we may be about to witness “The Great Unbundling”? Will Google really be forced to break apart its search monolith or will regulators be satisfied just to see other people’s listings appearing at the top of the page? The problem with that idea for Google is a difficult one – how to manipulate the search results just enough to keep regulators happy without interfering with the search algorithms that are fundamental to its success or making things worse in the process… Whilst we might be a long way away from consumer confidence in Google waning, with 80% of Alphabet’s revenue coming from search engine advertising it is surely a concern for Google where digital marketers and agencies will advise clients to spend their budgets and high-profile news that you can’t trust Google doesn’t help.

Come on Google, you’ve got to pay for those fine somehow…

Pandemic Analytics or Lies, Lies and Damned Statistics

Leaving #digitalmarketing means I have a chance to call things out thst I previously would have put aside for fear of looking like I was going out of my way to have a pop at competitors.

But… we just need more budget…

Something I’ve noticed this week is a number of marketeers on social media asking for understanding and clemency because they can’t reproduce last years pandemic-powered results.

Well… of course they can’t. Lockdown was unprecedented (I’ve come to hate that word!) and it had an unprecedented but predictable impact on online performance.

Marketing agencies begging for understanding and clemency now weren’t honest with clients then – they were riding the crest of a wave  created by a captive audience with time and money on their hands. It couldn’t last.

Confirmation Bias in Website Analytics

To avoid being unkind, there is an alternative explanation – Confirmation Bias. Agencies working hard for customers, especially during an extreme event such as a pandemic, are likely to attribute positive changes in website performance to their own actions because that was what they were expecting to happen. A form of Selective Perception, the statistics are viewed through the lens of “We did X, and the website stats did Y” without taking into account that perhaps the website would have “done Y” even if you didn’t do X at all.

This is a trap it’s very easy to fall into and it’s why applying things like The Jurassic Park Test are very important.

It’s crucial not only to understand why you are making a change to your website, but to have controls in place so that you can understand what could happen if you didn’t do/stopped doing that activity.

How to judge if an agency really understood what was happening…

If you really want to get the measure of an agency and whether they understood what was happening during the pandemic, just scroll back through their social media posts and get a feel for whether or not their actions, and outcomes, match their words.

My advice? Stay away from anyone who was keen to share how well they were doing during the pandemic and crowing about their performance. Like a turtle on a post, they probably had no idea how they got there and no idea what to do next.

Trust, Truth and The Truth About SEO

So, we’re going to have a change of pace around here…

For the past ten years or so my job has revolved around digital marketing, SEO, and building website products and brands. It’s been a blast, but all things have their time and it’s time for a change… in a few weeks I’m going to be leaving my agency to take a step away from “digital” into a new role as an IT Director.

I did consider shutting this blog down at that point; the original version of The Truth About SEO is few years old now and whilst I’d stand by the vast majority of the content as “evergreen”, there are definitely areas that I would update or change if I were releasing/re-releasing it today. The purpose of the blog was always to be able to update and improve on the book’s content and, eventually, to be the source for a new book when the time was right. So, I had to ask if I’d be able to follow through on that when I’m not working in digital every day anymore.

On the flip side, there is a certain purity and clarity of purpose to blogging about this stuff without having any “skin in the game”. Most SEOs blog as a means to draw in clients, sell books, get themselves speaking engagements. Running a digital agency of my own, it certainly wasn’t any hindrance to have “bestselling author on SEO” on my business card. But, having your reputation tied to the agency inevitably sanitises your output somewhat and there’s only so far “opinions are my own not those of Gravit-e” can go.

On balance, I’ve decided that I can’t see my passion for examining how search engines work and talking about what Google and others are doing is going to go away. Fundamentally, search engines have a massive influence on the world around us. They make, and break, businesses. People make life-changing decisions based on the information that they find online and what information they find is controlled by search engines (and social media – a little on that below). Search engines, and the people who know how to manipulate them, wield immense, unregulated power in our society.

The same is true of social media with the role of platforms like Facebook in the Trump presidency and now the anti-vax movement being in the spotlight. Social media marketing is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than search engine optimisation because it enables you to target your message at people without them asking to see it.

Moving forward, these are the things that I really want to talk about and help people to understand.

Having no skin in the game opens up a world of possibilities…

Google really, really wants you to know that it sends more traffic to the open web every year. Really.

In an earlier post, I looked back to the furore that Rand Fishkin and SparkToro created when they claimed that two-thirds of Google searches resulted in no clicks in 2020. As I surf the web, I often share interesting links to my blog(s) as draft posts to come back to later and write up into a full post. Clearing through my backlog today, I came across this absolute gem from around the time of the ZeroClickPocalypse – Google’s own Danny Sullivan taking the time out his schedule to publically call out the zero-clicks research and give Google’s side of the story.

Here it is: https://blog.google/products/search/google-search-sends-more-traffic-open-web-every-year/

Basically, Google’s defense boils down to four things:

  1. Sometimes people “reformulate their queries”
  2. Sometimes people use the “quick facts” (aka snippets) that Google produces
  3. Sometimes people click on a Google My Business link and call/email the business
  4. Sometimes people go straight to an app like Netflix

I’ve got two big problems with this:

  1. Obviously Google are sending more traffic every year. There is more traffic to send.
  2. Snippets are the very thing that most people are complaining about.

Google goes to great pains to lean into their licensing agreements for certain data, but don’t talk about all the data that they scrape, repackage, and re-use without permission from an innumerable amount of other sites. They also don’t talk about the businesses who have a website but aren’t signed up to Google My Business and are therefore less represented. They don’t talk about the costs associated with putting an app in the store or the percentage they charge on in-app purchases.

To me, the whole thing smacks of a whitewash and the brightness of that white is particularly stark when you consider that Google have started losing antitrust cases in the EU and that the US DOJ now has them firmly in its sights.

What I’d love to know is what percentage of searches that Google to send to the open web now result in no click through. That is the number that matters.

Why is Organic SEO So Hard?

Domm Holland (CEO of Fast.co) asked this question:

I find it crazy about DTC/eCommerce that the sector excels by directly communicating and engaging with their customers, yet is almost exclusively driven by paid ads through FB/Insta.

People should be able to uncover great brands more organically.

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/domm_i-find-it-crazy-about-dtcecommerce-that-activity-6680544843044925440-f5PG

Which, as you can imagine, got me thinking. Why is organic SEO so hard? Why does it take so long? When search engines exist to help us find things, why do some things end up so hard to find? My gut reaction surprised me but, the more I think about it, the more I think it might be right…

The current social and search platforms don’t need or want your business to grow organically.

It’s in the interests of all social media platforms to create a model where a small number of people can achieve huge success at low cost, then use this as the inducement for others to spend their money on advertising.

Think about it – how many people are trying to emulate the success of outliers on social media right now? How many proto-Kardashians have swarmed to Instagram to try and make their fortune? How many PewDiePie-lites are there on YouTube? It’s more than just a crowded marketplace – it’s a crowded marketplace where the rules are arbitrary and controlled by a third party for their own benefit.

If this were a real marketplace, you would be able to take a look at your neighbour’s wares and make sure you had something better. Fresher meat. Bigger buns. People in the market would see the goods side by side and, hopefully, pick yours. But online marketplaces don’t work that way. In an online marketplace you can have the absolute best product on the planet and still find yourself behind (or under) an inferior competitor. Online marketplaces don’t reward the quality of the product, the algorithms just aren’t built that way.

Now, maybe in our fictitious real-world marketplace you don’t get to be right next to your competitor either. Fair enough. But you can shout louder, you can build a brighter and better stall. You can stand at the entrance to the market and give out fliers. Of course, you can do these things in an online marketplace too but… there’s a limit. If you want to shout over a certain volume or have a stall over a certain size then you need to pay the marketplace – in the form of ads.

And so what was a platform where everyone was equal and only the quality of the content matters suddenly becomes skewed – now, bad content but deep pockets can triumph more often than not.

And it’s not just social networks that work this way. Search engines do exactly the same thing. You don’t have to take my word for it, Sridhar Ramaswamy (former head of ads for Google)  told the Times that the quality and usefulness of search results on Google had been compromised by the focus on ad revenue. Just take a moment and let that sink in – generating advertising revenue from search results is more important to Google than giving you the right answer.

Beware of geeks bearing gifts…

So, is Organic Ranking Just Impossible?

No, organic is entirely possible with sufficient time and effort. It doesn’t even have to cost you that much money, if you’re prepared to sacrifice your own time to learn and do it yourself.

But for many businesses, the timeline will be too long and the implementation costs (even doing it themselves) will be too high. Organic should, long term, give you the biggest ROI but its the equivalent of choosing to go to the gym every day and train for two hours instead of drinking Slim-Fast shakes. A lot of businesses want to Slim-Fast.

But organic shouldn’t be slow. It should be fast. Changes to your website should make a difference quickly, but they don’t. New content should get indexed quickly, but this doesn’t always happen. Search engines are stuck using skewed metrics like backlinks to measure popularity because, like organic ranking, the next big jump in search engine technology – proper AI interpretation of the content and its quality – is a quantum leap away.

In the meantime, search engines prioritise adding features to their search engine results page that keep customers with them and force-feed them more advertising. They’ve proven the quality of their product; now they need to keep customers coming back for more of the same. These platforms simply aren’t built to facilitate the organic discovery of new things because there’s no money in that.

You Make It Sound Like There’s No Hope!

Actually, there’s a lot to be hopeful about. As new platforms emerge they normally prioritise organic discovery (the early days of Instagram, for example) then, as the audience reaches the critical point for monetisation, ads overtake organic in usefulness.

So, if you want the easiest organic reach – go to new platforms. The audience will be smaller but they are there for the taking and you can benefit while they grow. Eventually, though, plan to pay or move on.

There’s also growing interest in subscription-based search engines and social networks where customers will pay for the service rather than use the service for “free” and be bombarded with advertising. People are waking up to how valuable their data is to the big platforms. In the past, the only option was to “vote with your feet” and go “off the grid” in terms of social, but a new breed of platforms is emerging that prioritise privacy and subscriptions fill the gap in their bottom line.

As always, SEO is changing.

In the meantime, the gains are still there to be had – just work hard and don’t drink the Slim-Fast.

Google Used Your Content, Now it’s Time for Them to Pay

Google has lost its legal battle with French regulators and now has just three months to agree on a deal with French news organisations for how it will compensate them for using their content in Google News.

This battle started some time ago and, at one point, it looked like Google were going to pull Google News out of France and possibly all of the EU as a consequence, something that was viewed as been punitive and retaliatory by many observers. Instead, Google kept the product available but stopped featuring any content from French news organisations. Even in France.

Inevitably, they found themselves at loggerheads with French media regulators but, in a twist only a few predicted, Google lost their case in the French courts and now face a difficult negotiation, against the clock, against disgruntled French news providers who know that they (for a change) hold all the cards.

What’s the problem with Google News?

The problem news agencies have with Google News is that being in the Google News feed generates very few clicks through to the websites that Google scrapes its headlines from.

Skimming through Google News this morning, as I often do over breakfast, I’ve noticed how much news I take in without actually clicking through to the real article to read the detail. I got my news intake, at least at a headline level, absolutely for free.

As a news organisation, this is a problem. You’re still paying journalists and other staff, you’re still paying for infrastructure, you’re still running a business… but Google’s taking your content and giving it away.

The problem with Zero Click Searches

Zero click searches are on the rise. In fact, some reports estimate that up to 50% of all searches on Google now don’t result in a single click to a website.

The reason for this isn’t that the index is bad – if 50% of your searches with Google didn’t turn up a result, you’d soon consider a different search engine. No, it’s because the search engine results page now contains a panel of “Featured Snippets” – immediate answers to questions that often mean that you don’t need to go to a website to find the information.

This is good for users and underpins a lot of the ready answers we’ve gotten used to receiving from Google Home and Alexa, but it’s terrible for content creators because they are the source of these answers, not Google themselves.

Are Google biting the hand that feeds them?

Google’s business model was to be the best search index, which gives them the most customers and therefore allows them to sell the most adverts. It’s a good model – it’s made them one of the biggest and most important companies on the planet.

But, at some point, that mission got lost. Google started to want your attention not for the search results or the adverts alongside them, but for themselves. Their mission to “organise the worlds information” was set aside in favour of owning all the world’s information.

Featured Snippets are the latest example of this, but not the first.

  • Google Maps put route planning software out of business
  • Google News has crippled news sites
  • Google Shopping made paid-for advertising the only guaranteed way to generate sales online

Each of these innovations came under the guise of improving the search experience for the user but every single one has exhibited the same strategy – Google takes ownership of the user and you have to pay Google, either in cash or content, for access to them.

Is it time for a change?

There appears to be increasing appetite for change in the way interment giants like Google behave.

If other countries follow suit with France, could we see an inversion of the current model? Instead of contents creators clamouring for Google’s attention, Google would be negotiating with content creators for access to their content?

It seems unlikely, but the need and the desire for change are there. What form could it take? Well, perhaps sometime a little like Google Ads, but it reverse…

How Google can fix its content problem

Google needs content. No content = no index = no business. (Nothing else in Alphabet’s portfolio of companies comes close to the earning power and profitability of the ad business).

So, maybe it’s time for Google to start paying for that content…

Google have a market-leading piece of tech for finding the “best” websites relating to any topic. It also has the technology to track and charge for clicks through its search engine and to track when people searched but didn’t click. All of this exists.

My suggestion is for Google to open up a marketplace for content that works in the same way as their ad business but instead of us bidding to be the 1st place against a particular phrase or question, Google tells us what the information on that topic is worth to them.

This value should, perhaps, be linked to what people are paying for ads against the topic – after all, this is the going market rate for traffic relating to this term, traffic that Google is trapping inside their system rather than passing on to websites as they once did.

A simple eggs-example

I have a website all about eggs. Possibly, I’m the world’s authority on them. Google wants to be able to tell people how long it takes to boil an egg, and I’ve got the perfect answer to this question.

If I wanted to advertise against the term “How to boil an egg”, Google would be able to tell me how much I need to bid for that search.

But, I don’t want to pay people to come and read my website. I want to be paid for the high quality information I’m providing. So…

  1. I log into the “Google Content Marketplace” and submit my site.
  2. Google scans my site (changes are it already did) and decides what “Featured Snippets” I might be able to provide.
  3. Google offers me a price for this information.
  4. If I accept then I have an opportunity to be the Featured Snippet and earn some money, if I decline then my site remains in the organic listing and someone else gets the Featured Snippet spot.

Of course, there may be more than one person who wants to bid for the “How to Boil an Egg” Featured Snippet. In that case, we need a way to make it fair and to maintain the quality of the Featured Snippets…

Picking the best Featured Snippet

To keep things fair, bidding cannot be a part of this system. Google needs to set the price for the content. If the price is too low, then nobody accepts being the Featured Snippet and then, no Featured Snippet exists. If Google has a problem with that, they’ve got two options – increase what they are prepared to pay or hire some content creators to make content for them. Either way, they’re going to have to pay market rate for content creation – something that’s going to be new to them, as they’ve paid absolutely nothing so far to anyone.

But if all this sounds like I’m just out to bash Google, there are a few things I think should also be part of this system to make it fair for all parties.

  1. Featured Snippets always include a prominent link to the site that was the source of the information.
  2. If the user clicks an advert or an organic listing when the Featured Snippet is also on the page, Google don’t pay anything.
  3. If more than one site is bidding to be the Featured Snippet, the one that most often generates a zero-click response should be the one shown most often – but there should be multiple in rotation.
  4. There should be an option for users to report a snippet as incorrect – if this happens repeatedly for the same snippet then it is suspended pending human moderation.
  5. Users should be informed that Google is paying the site to provide that content.

With this structure in place, the usefulness of Featured Snippets increases and the pricing model is fair. If Google services its user with my information, I get paid. If my information doesn’t fully answer the user’s question, I don’t (Of course, my site might be the one that gets clicked on – so I can earn revenue there.)

Applying this model to news… and everything else.

News is a slightly different model that requires a different approach. With news, we are not answering an explicit question like “how do you boil an egg” but something far wider – what is happening on Planet Earth today?

More direct profit sharing is the most necessary model here. According to some sources, Google made $4.7bn in advertising revenue from traffic based on news searches and news content in 2018 alone, a figure which just a little under what everyone else in the online new industry made put together. Google certainly has the wherewithal to work out which news sources are driving content and driving revenue – shouldn’t profits from simply be shared directly with these sources?

Of course, it’s possible that this model is applicable far beyond the remit of just news. I don’t search on Google for information because Google has that information – I’m searching on Google because its the best available gateway to information other people have. When Google provides nothing more than a link to that content, that’s perfect – it’s down to individual sites to monetise (or not) however they chose to. Things go wrong when Google takes content from publishers and uses it to generate revenue for itself and itself alone.

What do you think? Is it time to re balance the way in which content is monetised online or do Google provide such a vital service we should all just be pleased to be there?


Original coverage of the Google News Cour Case: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-suffers-major-defeat-must-pay-french-publishers/360992/