As you've probably noticed in the past, Google sometimes includes an "In the News" section in its search results. This points users to a few sources that have newsy information about whatever it is that they searched for.
The feature used to point users to stories indexed in Google News. It still does that, but last fall, Google started showing content from additional sources, including reddit, to go along with the Google News content.
Now, Google showing content directly from the companies that are in the news has become a story.
Should Google show company content under the guise of news? Do you think this will mislead users? Let us know in the comments.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that the feature has been letting company statements in at the top of the news links. The narrative of the report is that biased statements and press releases can appear above unbiased news stories, and mislead users about critical information. A side narrative of the report is that this can also hurt news publisher traffic. It shares this from Google:
"The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible -- that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release," the Google spokeswoman said.
She added Google, which did not announce the September change, does not get paid for including press releases on the lists.
Examples of companies who have recently topped the "In the News" section include Gemalto and Apple. The former has been doing damage control after a hacking incident, while the latter is selling smart watches. It's worth noting that some find one of the more significant angles of the Apple Watch to be that some models cost as much as $17,000, and this is not something that Apple drew attention to in its own announcements.
According to Reuters, the Gemalto statement that appeared in the section downplayed the impact of the hacking. This is the main thing that's not sitting well with critics. Should a company be able to have that kind of control over the narrative of news stories about themselves?
If you ask me, it's a fair question, but it's also probably being a bit blown out of proportion. Maybe I'm giving people too much credit, but I think most users can figure out that if a story is coming directly from a company, it's probably going to have that bias. And it's not like Google shows only one story in these news boxes. Maybe the company message shouldn't always rank above other unbiased reports, but there's likely enough other content on the page to discern that it's not the only take on the news. There's also something to be said for allowing a company (especially when under attack in the media) to have its side of the story heard.
When it comes to announcements, it's likely that the company's version of the story is actually the best result in some cases. Like Nate Swanner at Slash Gear notes, "The issue here is context."
This shouldn't be a problem if Google can get the context right. Whether or not it can is another argument.
There are some other points to consider here that don't seem to be getting much mention by those who have weighed into the conversation. For one, Google News itself has included press releases for a long time. I'm not sure if this has always been the case, but it's been like that for years. It's not at all uncommon to see results from Business Wire, PR Newswire, and others. That's fine, and truth be told, sometimes I prefer these results.
The main difference is apparently that now Google may show releases directly from the corporate websites (like Apple.com, for example) in the "In the News" section. It's really not a huge leap from what has long been possible. A release from one of the aforementioned distribution services could have appeared there anyway. I just don't see this as a major concern.
Google does say in a Google News help article, "For sites containing press releases, please keep in mind that we're unable to include sites that primarily promote their own product or organization."
Again, that's Google News, and the "In the News" section includes additional content, so this doesn't appear to apply to that. Also, press release distribution services clearly fall into a different category as they promote everybody's content, not just a single company's.
Google's web search algorithm has hurt press release sites in the past. That's not really here nor there, but it is an interesting aside. It was actually less than a year ago that we were talking about press releases sites taking a hit after Panda 4.0. News results are a different beast though.
Another element that should be a part of this conversation is that Google and Twitter recently struck a deal, which will likely see Google including more real-time tweet activity in search results. It remains to be see how Google is going to implement that this time around, but it's going to give Google better access to fresh content, which could downplay the significance of the "In the News" box. It's also possible that it could contribute directly to what actually appears in that box. We don't know.
As far as the "In the News" section, AdWeek's PRNewser says, "The change is good news for PR and bad news for major journalistic institutions like the Times and The Wall Street Journal, because whoever posts the announcement first will get top placement and clicks. It’s a symptom of our digital age, though: new distribution channels allow brands — and, by extension, their PR teams — to become publishers with greater power to drive the narrative."
Some think businesses will be able to game their way into the "In the News" results.
What do you think about the whole thing. Is there cause for concern here? Share your thoughts.
Image via Google