Google’s Changes That Will Impact Publishers

Platforms and publishers have a long and complicated history. Sometimes platforms take from publishers, such as the concern about Google stealing publisher traffic. Other times they can give back — most famously might be Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund, which recently wrapped up six rounds of funding to European publishers and is expanding into other parts of the globe now, including the US (learn more now). No matter where you fall in the spectrum, we can all agree that these tech giants do have an impact on publishers. Today we’re digging into a few changes from Google that will impact publishers this year.

Google implementing paywall blockers

Last month we wrote about paywall blocking technology, with the key takeaway being that this technology is coming but isn’t yet mainstream. Unfortunately today this is looking a bit different. At the time we said there wasn’t yet much activity for paywall blocking on Chrome, the browser preferred by 60% of web users. This week Google announced that the next version of Chrome, coming July 30th, will block publishers from detecting one of the most common ways people are avoiding paywalls today.

Many publishers, including The Los Angeles Times and The Dallas Morning News, use “incognito catchers” — technology that enables them to detect when someone is using the incognito mode to get around a metered paywall. Now publishers won’t be able to restrict the viewing of their content in incognito mode.

We can foresee two consequences of this: more publishers will move to hard paywalls and they’ll invest more in their apps. The incognito loophole doesn’t work on hard paywalls, so publishers may decide if they’re already focusing on a reader revenue strategy, then they may as well go all in with a hard paywall. Furthermore, as it becomes harder for publishers to effectively paywall their content online, their app and ePaper strategy is becoming more important. At Twipe we see that WebApp is the fastest growing platform on our ePaper distribution technology, which we expect to only increase in the coming years. We’re also interested in this broader question of how publishers are choosing their app strategies, ranging from many single purpose apps to just one multipurpose app. It’s something we will explore further in a future article, sign up to receive our findings or get in touch if you have anything to share.

It’s a good reminder to publishers to not let their strategy depend too much on platforms, whether that means opting out of offers that don’t allow for having a direct reader relationship (including Apple News+) or focusing their investments on reader experiences they can better control (such as Le Parisien focusing on moving mobile readers to apps, to improve retention).

Less than half of all Google searches bring traffic to publishers

Of course, Google started as a search engine, but how much traffic does Google search actually bring to publishers today? Recent research from Rand Fishkin, Founder of SparkToro, found that nearly half of all Google searches don’t result in a visit to any website — these sessions are known as “zero-click searches”.

Still, Google is an important referral source for many publishers. According to SparkToro, Google sends 10x as much traffic as the next leading referral source, Facebook. We also know from Reuters that globally 25% of all readers say search is their main way of accessing news.

Nonetheless, we can all remember the concern when Facebook announced it was changing its newsfeed algorithm to de-prioritise news. It’s another nudge for publishers to understand the importance of owning their relationship with their audience, and not relying on third parties or platforms.

New formats surfaced in search

Finally, there is some good news for publishers. We’ve talked before about the importance of audio and the “stories” format for publishers, now we have another reason to add to the list: both formats will be surfaced in Google searches.

At Google I/O, CEO Sundar Pichai announced that Google Search would begin indexing podcasts. Now if you search about a podcast, such as The Daily from The New York Times, the most recent episodes appear directly in the search results. If you click on the episode, you are sent to Google Podcasts where you can listen to the episode in its entirety.

Furthermore, since Google will return podcasts in results about the content of a specific episode, not just based on the title of the podcast, publishers will be able to bring their audio content to a wider audience. For example, a person interested in learning more about the military crackdown in Sudan will be presented with relevant news stories as well as The Daily’s latest episode about Sudan.

Also at Google’s I/O conference, they announced they will soon introduce “dedicated placement” in Google Search for Stories in specific verticals, such as travel, fashion, cooking, and movies. To see how it will look, search for a publisher’s name, such as CNN, within g.co/ampstories on your mobile browser.

For Google, these changes reflect a desire to make search more practical for users, while for publishers it’s yet another reminder that news formats are changing with the rise of smartphones.

“These are all examples of how we are making search even more helpful for our users, surfacing the right information in the right context.” – Sundar Pichai, Google CEO

We’ll continue to report on any new changes from Google that will impact publishers in the coming months. We’re particularly interested to see how Google’s first round of funding for publishers in the US goes. After six rounds over three years in Europe, we’ve seen a lot of great innovation come out of this program (including our own collaborative projects, EngageReaders and JAMES, Your Digital Butler) and we hope to see the same in the US. Do reach out with any questions or comments!

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe
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