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.