Big Media Gaming Google At the Expense of Independent Sites

Wonder why newspapers and major media sites show up when searching for product reviews? It's because those sites are gaming Google at the expense of better, independent options....
Big Media Gaming Google At the Expense of Independent Sites
Written by Matt Milano
  • Wonder why newspapers and major media sites show up when searching for product reviews? It’s because those sites are gaming Google at the expense of better, independent options.

    Many have wondered why sites like Forbes are ranking high on the list of sites related to pet care, something that has nothing to do with the publication’s core market or area of expertise. HouseFresh dug into the problem and discovered that big media companies are using a tactic called “keyword swarming” to overwhelm smaller sites and outrank them in Google’s search.

    “Within a few days of publishing the David VS Digital Goliaths exposé, I received an anonymous tip from a former Dotdash Meredith employee, who informed me of an SEO content strategy they implement called ‘keyword swarming,'” writes HouseFresh’s Gisele Navarro.

    “Through this strategy, Dotdash Meredith allegedly identifies small sites that have cemented themselves in Google results for a specific (and valuable) term or in a specific topic, with the goal of pushing them down the rankings by publishing vast amounts of content of their own.”

    As Navarro points out, big media companies are pushing this strategy because it pays. Navarro cites Allison Schiff, managing editor of AdExchanger:

    “IAC’s vision for Dotdash Meredith — to be a flywheel for generating advertising and commerce revenue — is finally starting to pan out.

    […] More than 80% of Dotdash Meredith’s traffic and digital revenue come from its core sites, such as Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, and Southern Living, that deliver a form of what one might think of as commerce-related service journalism.”

    To make matters worse, many big media companies are trading in proper journalists for AI-generated content that can be promoted via keyword swarming. Navarro cites journalist Joe Lindsey:

    “The financial incentives for the current trend are strong, and as media companies continue to cut newsroom staff, the lure of cheap AI content is hard to resist.

    “The latest permutation of commerce content is that publishers outsource some or all of it to a third-party provider, which is called a commerce content partnership, and that’s where AI is pushing in.”

    The Silver Lining

    Navarro points to Google’s March 2024 core update a possible solution. As part of the update, Google is addressing “site reputation abuse,” which the company describes:

    Site reputation abuse is when third-party pages are published with little or no first-party oversight or involvement, where the purpose is to manipulate Search rankings by taking advantage of the first-party site’s ranking signals. Such third-party pages include sponsored, advertising, partner, or other third-party pages that are typically independent of a host site’s main purpose or produced without close oversight or involvement of the host site, and provide little to no value to users.

    The new search update aims to address this, even setting May 5, 2024 as the deadline for sites to stop this behavior:

    Our new policy doesn’t consider all third-party content to be a violation, only that which is hosted without close oversight and which is intended to manipulate Search rankings. For example, many publications host advertising content that is intended for their regular readers, rather than to primarily manipulate Search rankings. Sometimes called “native advertising” or “advertorial”, this kind of content typically wouldn’t confuse regular readers of the publication when they find it on the publisher’s site directly or when arriving at it from Google’s search results. It doesn’t have to be blocked from Google Search.

    Our spam policies page lists some illustrative examples of what is and isn’t site reputation abuse. Such content needs to be blocked from Google Search to avoid violating our spam policies. To allow time for site owners to prepare for this change, this new policy will take effect starting May 5, 2024.

    There’s no denying that Google is the dominant search engine, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, it’s been many years since the company delivered the unbiased search results it promised in its early days. Nonetheless, the degree to which big media has gamed the search engine is unacceptable and creates a situation in which smaller, independent sites and startups face a nearly impossible battle to gain recognition.

    Hopefully Google delivers on its promise to address site reputation abuses and ends this behavior once and for all.

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