Google gives publishers back control... instead of paying them

Posted by Owen Powis on 23 Oct, 2019
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You may have heard of the 'link tax' last year, well it didn't go away. It's being implemented and Google is making changes.

Google publishers.

Google’s shift from connection engine to information engine is something we’ve covered before, as Google has dragged increasing amounts of content out of publishers pages and into their own search results.

This breaks the fundamental relationship between publishers and search engines. We provide the content and they help people find it. Everyone wins, the search engine can display and profit from ads on their page, the publisher also can on theirs so they can benefit from the traffic the search engine sends there. Finally, the user gets to quickly and efficiently find the content they need. Everyone wins.

Google has repeatedly jeopardised this relationship by putting an increasing amount of information into the search results. Information scraped directly out of publishers' content.

This means users no longer need to click through to the content and so the publisher doesn’t get the ad revenue. Therefore, the publisher has no incentive to create the content, or at least allow it to be listed in the search engine.

So what's changed?

Due to a new copyright law in France Google has come under increasing scrutiny about their use of snippets in European results. It's actually a European directive, but France is the first to put the new law onto their statute books. Meaning, as the first to enact it, they are the first to push Google to change.

Google has apparently been a little slow in their response.

“Certain companies like Google now want to get around the rules. We will not let them do this,” Macron said. His comments came after he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement to the same effect following a meeting of French and German ministers on Wednesday." 

Although there are certainly questions around how Article 11, named the 'link tax', will be enacted, it does actually make a lot of sense when it comes to Google pulling publishers' content into the search results.

Google may be a bit less bullish and willing to ‘bend’ the rules after their 2.7 billion antitrust fine from the EU courts, but they are still yet to comply with the law in full and pay publishers for their content displyed in the results. This is the crucial part that fixes the model.

Instead they have given publishers in Europe the option of controlling whether snippets are shown for them or not:

If a property is designated as a European press publication in its site settings, then search results on Google for this site, such as in Web Search or Discover, will not include text snippets or thumbnail images when shown to users in France, unless the result page overrides the site setting with a directive such as max-snippet or max-image-preview.

The text here isn’t entirely accurate however. In a separate FAQ Google appears to be actually applying this to any news site within Europe. Which makes sense as it's only a matter of time before other European nations adopt it:

we have included any European journalistic operation that's currently part of Google News. We didn't include sites that are not primarily journalistic operations, such as but not limited to academic journals, personal blogs or content from sports teams”

Google has also made it extra easy to include your site or remove it from the list if you don’t want to be included…

Any publication that wasn't initially included can easily self-include themselves; any publication that wishes to opt-out can also use self-serve tools to do that using Google Search Console. Similarly, a publisher can remove its property from the list if it feels that the publication has been included in error.”

We'll have to see if the above changes prove enought to placate the European courts. But Google and this specific change is currently sharply in focus within international politics so there may prove to be little flexibility in their implementation of the law.

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