Many publishers resent the criteria Google uses to pick top results, starting with the original PageRank formula that depended on how many links a page got. But crumbling ad revenue is lending their push more urgency; this is no time to show up on the third page of Google search results.
And as publishers renew efforts to sell some content online, moreover, they’re newly upset that Google’s algorithm penalizes paid content.
“You should not have a system,” one content executive said, “where those who are essentially parasites off the true producers of content benefit disproportionately.”
Last November John Kosner, ESPN’s digital-media senior VP, renewed the charge at a meeting of Google’s Publishers Advisory Council, a small, invitation-only group for professional publishers to pow-wow confidentially with the search giant. Members include BusinessWeek, ESPN, Hearst, Meredith, The New York Times, Time Inc. and The Wall Street Journal. “This wasn’t the first time that it had been raised, but John certainly put a bright spotlight on it,” said one person in attendance.
Then in January, Martin Nisenholtz, New York Times Co. senior VP-digital operations, got up at the annual Online Publishers Association summit in Florida, an event closed to the press, to blast both the algorithm and the results presentation on the screen.
He’d just run a search for Gaza, which had been at war with Israel since Dec. 27. Google returned links to outdated BBC stories, Wikipedia entries and even an anti-Semitic YouTube video well before coverage by the Times, which had an experienced reporter covering the war from inside Gaza itself.