Paid Exclusion: Bing and News Corp. Discuss De-Indexing Sites In Google

The Financial Times reported on Monday that both Microsoft and News Corp. are in "early stage" talks for Microsoft to carry News Corp. content properties exclusively in its Bing search results pages.  This would become a new form of paid inclusion, but instead of having to pay to get into the engine (as in Yahoo's Search Submit Pro), the engine would be paying the content provider for the right to index and display its results.  

The proposal also reportedly calls for News Corp. to remove its content properties from Google.  The impetus for these talks appears to be rooted in News Corp.'s desire to increase the value of its content, as well as Microsoft's willingness to spend any way it can to nick at Google's market share. 

But I suspect that these early talks may be just that: only talk.   And I hope so, because while we can understand the goals and struggles that Bing and News Corp. face (and even the challenges other content publishers face), this is still not a good or sustainable idea for either them in the long run.  Here are a few reasons why:



If Microsoft decides to dial-up traffic in natural search for preferred partners, it effectively means its natural results are for sale.  The larger issue here is that Microsoft would willingly and openly cross that line with its natural results, and that its "editorial" position is open to commercial influence for companies willing to play the de-indexing game.  For Google, natural and paid results are church and state, and will continue to be, as much of its brand hinges on this editorial trust with users.  Bing would do well to keep the same type of editorial focus, and maintain its "noncommercial" integrity in its natural results (though it should be stated, the natural results of all engines are influenced by commercial relevance at some level, even if money doesn't directly change hands). 

Bing does not have enough search market share to make this a great value to the publisher, in terms of offsetting Google search traffic.  If it's traffic News Corp. is after, Bing's 9.9% search market share won't be able to match Google's 65.5% (comScore Nov, 2009).  Even if News Corp. makes subscriptions its primary marketing goal, I would make the case that natural search would be one of its strongest digital channels.  This deal would effectively cut off the largest search provider in one of the highest performing channels in all of digital marketing. 

 If searchers don't find News Corp. properties in Google, they will find something else to take its place.  I'm sure this is a point that is weighing heavily on News Corp. minds as they talk of going to a subscription model, and not just by cutting off search traffic.  To get more subscribers, News Corp. will need as much natural search as they can get, and just because they aren't found in Google, it doesn't mean users are going to jump ship to Bing en masse.  They are going to instead either use direct navigation to the content property, or they're going to take the best Google results provided to them.  In the past, Google has been pretty "nice" in indexing publishers who keep their content behind the pay wall.  It's a pain as a user, but it nevertheless drives business to those sites, and News Corp. would still benefit from this traffic in a subscription scenario. 

Social search relevance can't be "de-indexed."  News Corp. may be able to block out a crawler via exclusion protocol or by a pay wall, but isn't going to tell someone they can't share a link, title, and comments with their friends on Twitter, or from being algorithmically and socially ranked in some other way (like say, Wowd).  And these social connections could still end up in a social search result, or one of the many smaller real-time engines.  If there is anything that travels fast in social networks and real-time search, it's the news, and Twitter's deals with Google and Bing are a sure bet that this content will be socially propagated into search, at least when it is most relevant.   Are social layers really going to be a big thing in future search results deployment, especially the news?  Check my past columns for more information.   

Bing is on the rise, and in the broad scope of things, this still sounds like talk.  If it does manage to take off, neither Bing nor News Corp. will benefit greatly in the long run from this type of approach (and Bing may also lose things like editorial trust and a big fat wad of cash). And  Google will still continue to gain market share in spite of it all, at least for the foreseeable future. 

Tomorrow is a holiday in the U.S., so I'd like to wish everyone here a happy Thanksgiving.  To the rest of the world: happy Thursday. 

4 comments about "Paid Exclusion: Bing and News Corp. Discuss De-Indexing Sites In Google".
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  1. Dan Mckillen from HealthDay, November 25, 2009 at 1:14 p.m.

    I can't help wondering if the pendulum will someday swing back to the side of content owners, particularly companies in the news business. After all, look what's happened in the last five years. Google reports record earnings every quarter while more newspapers go out of business and companies like AP announce more rounds of layoffs. At some point you need to step back and ask if the fair use rules are really all that fair. Should the search engines be allowed to post the headlines and a sentence or two of copyrighted news content without paying for the right to do that?

    Old habits are hard to break. Need to find something on the Internet, Google it. It's fairly automatic for most people and a hard habit to break. But what if AP, Fox, Bloomberg, and Thomson Reuters decided they could make more money by blocking Google and selling Bing exclusive to access their content? If Bing promoted the fact that they have access to four of the most valuable news services in the world, and Google no longer has similar access, how long do you think it would take people to change those old habits? I'm guessing, not too long. Just to be safe, the masses would likely switch to Bing for future searches so they don't miss anything newsworthy. Bing's share of market would increase exponentially and it would be a real game changer.

    This assumes, and it may be a bold assumption, that the money Bing would pay the big four news content providers would more than offset the amount of money they would make by monetizing the traffic they get from Google. Over the course of this exclusive content agreement, more and more people would be using the Bing search engine and the news sites would start getting a lot of their traffic from Bing instead of Google. The combination of payments from Bing for the exclusive content, combined with the increased linked traffic from Bing might be enough to offset the revenues they were able to generate from the previous business relationship with Google. How much is a point of market share worth to Google? How much is ten points of search market share worth to Bing?

    If this works out well for the big four news companies, it could work for other content providers as well. And before you know it the search engines would be bidding on content from numerous providers and the content marketplace would switch back to a time when the people paying to create, develop, write, photograph, report, and edit content start getting paid fair value again for all of their hard work. But the fair use rules need to be changed for this to happen.

  2. Lorraine Grula from Video Production Tips, November 25, 2009 at 2:54 p.m.

    Interesting situation we have here. News Corp is obviously trying to sock it to Google since they are mad at Google's perceived "unfair use" of their stuff. The article and the first comment both made good, but fairly opposite arguments. IF other large news organizations join News Corp in their fight against Google it will indeed make a big dent. Seems likely that they will since their very survival is at stake. But it also seems Bing is walking on shaky ground. I personally would not trust Bing if I know their "organic" results are for sale, especially when they are sold to Mr. Murdoch of all people. I personally do not even like calling his brand of "news" news. Fox News lovers are typically older and therefore less computer savvy. Will they flock to Bing to find their favorite stuff? Maybe, but probably a tad bit unlikely.

  3. Rob Garner from Advice Interactive Group, November 25, 2009 at 4:05 p.m.

    Thanks for the comments. I did say it is still a big "if" on featuring those partners, because the FT article is only based on a couple of sources, and really only addresses early stage talks. It is still quite reasonable to believe that Microsoft would want to tout a partnership, especially if they are paying big bucks for that content. If they told searchers to expect major exclusive content partnerships in their results, it would be downright embarrassing if those partners were constantly outranked or not found in place of sites like Huff Post or other aggregators, or even non-exclusive partners like a CNN. Otherwise, they are just paying to have them removed from Google. Microsoft doesn't have enough money to buy every major content provider out, on either a pure cash basis, or to counter a loss what those content providers might currently be getting from Google, provided that they know the true value of the natural search channel. Or who knows - maybe Bing will create some sort of hybrid "featured partners" placement on the SERP for favored partners. It is too early to tell, but in my opinion it is more likely than not that paid content partners would receive some sort of favored nation status.

  4. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, November 26, 2009 at 1:50 p.m.

    I commented on a previous article on this that I doubt this will reduce traffic to any News Corps websites. Primarily because we don't search for his content aside from possibly the first time because we bookmark all the sites anyway. But what I didn't discuss which is critical. Can anyone legally block a search site (in this case Google) from returning results with specific websites linked. I can see News Corp not paying google for Adwords so that they have no premium paid search results show up on the first page. But since google connects to a gazillion webpages that give it zero revenue back, I personally don't think News Corp can block Google from including their sites in the search output.

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