Newspapers Gaming Google With Questionable Tactics

from the who's-stealing-from-whom-now? dept

There was some hubbub earlier this month when sex columnist Violet Blue discovered that one of her old columns for the SF Chronicle had been altered by the Chronicle’s online site, She was upset that the changes implied the article said the opposite of what it actually said — and found it odd that, beyond that, all the links and comments were missing, and the story was now spread out over several pages. This resulted in some investigations, with venture capitalist Tim Oren pointing out that this appeared to be the work of a company called Perfect Market, a well-funded startup (funded, in part, by the Tribune Company), who had partnered with various newspaper sites to game Google’s search results. As Oren notes:

The keyword and ad-stuffed dead end pages apparently produced by Perfect Markets’s technology are isomorphic, from a search company’s point of view, to those created by more questionable tactics such as scraping. The intent is the same: to spam the index. This is the behavior that routinely gets questionable sites shoved to Google’s back pages, or banished altogether. One has to wonder just how long this type of abuse will be tolerated, simply because it’s being practiced by a recognized media outlet.

GigaOm also picked up on this story and in the comments to that article Ben Metcalfe did some sleuthing and revealed a bunch of newspapers all using this same highly questionable tactic.

Now, there are a few ironies here. First, with so many newspaper people (misleadingly) claiming that Google “steals” from them with Google News, to then find out that many of those same newspaper are trying to game Google with highly questionable tactics — basically proves that the newspapers are lying. They clearly want more Google traffic, and they’re willing to go to ridiculous lengths to get it.

Second, for all the talk of how no one can do investigative reporting without newspapers being around, it’s fascinating to see this story broken open by some bloggers and commenters — rather than any newspaper. That says something, doesn’t it?

In the meantime, it appears that Perfect Market is going into damage control mode, contacting GigaOm, and trying to spin the whole thing, by insisting that it’s really just trying to “delight our customers and users with innovative new content experiences.” The company also claims that it’s not “spamming” search engines but that it provides “contextual navigation to relevant related content and topics so the user can browse the publishers vast content library rather than creating dead ends.” Except, in this case, the “innovative new content experience” actually did lead to a “dead end,” rather than pointing to the original article, which included the proper details, links to other sources, and the comments and discussion that happened with the article.

While it’s certainly not as nasty as typical search engine spammers, it’s difficult to see this as anything other than an attempt to game Google by questionable means. Google has had no qualms about pulling high profile companies like BMW from its index in the past. It will be interesting to see if it will do the same with some of these newspapers who appear to be pushing the boundaries.

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Companies: google, perfect market, sf chronicle, tribune company

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Comments on “Newspapers Gaming Google With Questionable Tactics”

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Valkor says:

Advertisers have no souls

“innovative new content experiences.”

What utter marketing doublespeak. Yes, maybe if by “content” they mean “advertising”, and not in a cwf+rtb way either. It hasn’t been innovative since tech review sites started putting individual paragraphs of reviews on different pages in the first half of the decade.

Extra banner ad impressions is not the content I want to experience. I hope Google beats them down with the search equivalent of a very ugly banhammer.

ScaredOfTheMan says:

The Corp Speak getting under my skin

For a marketing company they sure could use a lesson in authentic communications.

All she had to say was, our customers pay us to increase their website’s ad revenue. We do it by reconfiguring their content’s presentation which helps drive up their CPM revenue.

Now we can call it spam or not, the great Goog will have the final word on that, but at least she would sound like a normal person. “innovative new content experiences” indeed

Anonymous Coward says:

“by insisting that it’s really just trying to “delight our customers and users with innovative new content experiences.””

Big businesses (ie: the RIAA, mainstream media, the government, and other big corporations) claim to be the ultimate authority over morality and then they turn around and consistently lie. Why should I take their moral claims seriously when these people think it’s OK for them to lie all the time?

Avatar28 (profile) says:

“Google has had no qualms about pulling high profile companies like BMW from its index in the past. It will be interesting to see if it will do the same with some of these newspapers who appear to be pushing the boundaries.”

And if/when Google does this, watch the newspapers start screaming even more for gov’t protection and how Google is being unfair and doing it to hide their sites so that they get the traffic instead.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“watch the newspapers start screaming even more for gov’t protection and how Google is being unfair and doing it to hide their sites so that they get the traffic instead.”

I was thinking the same thing. Google will probably just let them do this. It wont save the papers and just might speed their demise. Multi page articles when the whole thing can be done in 100 lines on one page. All it makes me do is go else where for news.

Beefcake (profile) says:

Media Needs It's Own Watchdog

Touching on the topic of bloggers breaking the story (which I realize isn’t the primary point of the post, but it is a prevalent thread throughout many discussions here): Maybe what we’re seeing is the development of the fifth estate. Because the media has become such big business it’s no longer possible to consider it an unbiased watchdog. So we now need to watch the watchers. The main question in my mind is “will the blogosphere develop enough core discipline and credibility to be that watcher?”

Valkor says:


That’s why the first sentence says the article is written by a sex columnist for the San Francisco market.

Perhaps you’re requesting an article that is in fact *more* NSFW? I don’t know if you’re disappointed or scarred. I’m at work so I can’t verify the nature of the site. Better safe than sorry, eh?

Rex (profile) says:

speaking of investigative reporting without a newspaper ...

You are familiar with

This is how you do without print media to go with it. They are doing it and doing it well.

ProPublica’s About page

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

Oh! The problem for the newspaper industry is that they are a non-profit organization. – My Bad

ProPublica has very liberal copying, republishing and re-writing of their stories.
Steal Our Stories

Unless otherwise noted, you can republish our articles and graphics (but not our photographs) for free. You just have to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

I rest my case.

Daniel (user link) says:


How are these questionable tactics? Where are the keyword stuffed pages? I certainly couldn’t find any, and keyword stuffing is the only aspect of the alleged tactics which would actually violate Google’s guidelines for webmasters.

This story seems to be bouncing around and getting amplified in an echo chamber where any SEO is questionable. If you actually look at the facts sfgate & Perfect Market aren’t doing anything spammy at all, they’re just doing what any savvy content business does: present it’s pages in the most search-engine friendly manner possible

I really don’t understand the notion that these pages are “ad stuffed” either. Of the ones I’ve seen they each have only one ad – there are more ads on the main version of these pages on sfgate.

Perfect Market don’t need to go into damage control mode, they need to speak to their lawyers, because this article, along with Violet and Tim’s, are straying dangerously close to libel.

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