Google’s ‘In-Depth Articles’ Feature: What Journalists Need to Know

Posted: September 3rd, 2013 under Digital Migration, journalism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

…back from summer vacation, and leaping into the school year. Well, trying to leap, anyway.

I mentioned this development in digital news to my journalism classes at Annenberg, and figured I might want to expand a bit more on it, and provide some links to related articles & research.

(Google Data Center from Wallpaperstart.com)

First, forgive me if this is old news, but I haven’t heard much about this from the usual suspects; for some reason, there isn’t much notice being taken of this by publishers, or professional journalists.

But the PR guys are all over this. Viz: How Google’s ‘In-Depth Articles’ feature could affect PR

Nut grafs:

The feature, which Google calls “In-Depth Articles,” offers up links to a set of three long-form articles, usually at the bottom of the search results page. The articles are usually detailed profiles and exposés on companies and their leadership. Companies and high-profile individuals should take notice of this development and understand that it presents a number of opportunities, as well as some perils. 

No one but Google itself knows exactly how these articles are selected, but the search engine giant has described them as “thoughtful in-depth content” that “remains relevant long after its publication date.” This is a major coup for traditional long-form publications such as Rolling StoneVanity Fair,FortuneThe Atlantic, and The New Yorker, as well as new online-only media such as The Verge,SB Nation, and Slate

The implications for businesses, prominent individuals, and the people in charge of maintaining the reputations thereof, are pretty significant, if not outright terrifying.

Imagine that you’re the Chief Marketing Officer for Great Big Widget Co.  You’ve spent years and many thousands of dollars on SEO to ensure that anyone searching for Great Big Widgets sees only positive information on the first page of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), because, as we all know, it’s only when you’re really desperate for an answer that you click past the first page of results, right?

So anyway, you’ve pushed out all sorts of content, carefully curated relevant keyword-related blogs posts, PR releases, short videos on YouTube, etc. etc. You’ve put out a whole spectrum of content to make sure that anyone searching for Great Big Widgets sees stuff that makes them want to reach for their wallets & pull out their credit cards. Operators are standing by, and the PayPal, yes indeed it is accepted.

But now you scroll to the bottom of the page of your SERPs and — what’s this? Three articles there, that you had thought long ago safely buried and dealt with. Three long-form journalism articles about how the CEO is a greedy megalomaniac, the Board of Directors a circle-jerk of yes-men, the employees all working 80 hours a week while management loots their pension funds, billions in taxes being sheltered in offshore funds to evade taxes,  … you know, standard business practices. But now, there they are, right on the front page of Google, where anybody can see them. Where everybody can see them.

This is going to make it very hard for corporate marketing teams to paper over ugly little scandals. It is also going to ensure that every once in a while, some digital David is going to research/shoot/write the kind of piece that slays a corporate Goliath … if for no other reason than the fact that the article is well-researched, upvoted by users on Reddit/DailyKos/Slashdot/BoingBoing/Wherever, and hits the magic algorithm criteria for inclusion in the search results.

Is this going to be a replacement for the news business? No. Let Moz (formerly SEOMoz) explain:

Clearly, it’s hard not to see a news and big media connection in these in-depth articles. Are in-depth articles a replacement for news results? No (at least not for now) – many of the results we tracked had both in-depth articles and a news box.

(snip)

While big news organizations have an advantage, there’s no compelling evidence that in-depth articles are a private club. In fact, Google has already posted a support document with advice on getting listed in in-depth articles. I’ll give you a quick-and-dirty summary:

  • Use Schema.org article markup
  • Set up authorship markup
  • Set up a Google+ account, including your logo
  • Properly handle paginated articles
  • Use “first click free” for paywall content

Google has come under a lot of criticism worldwide for not really contributing to the growth of human knowledge. Sure, they make it more accessible to everyone; but they have also made it harder and harder for the kinds of people who do original, boots-on-the-ground research, to actually survive & make a living from doing the hard work that creates all the knowledge that Google needs to exist so they can link to it.

It’s no secret that investigative reporting was the first thing that news organizations cut when the revenue crisis hit. Investigative reporting is long, tedious, hard and EXPENSIVE work. There are some stories that just cannot be done via crowdsourcing, kickstarting or hoping that the magic Internet fairy brings buttloads of cash and consulting opportunities that will help pay for your server & bandwidth costs.

Maybe the kind of traffic that this evolution of search will bring to in-depth journalism is a step towards more of a partnership between traditional news agencies and the digital startups that depend on them for their living.

Further reading: GigaOm: http://gigaom.com/2013/08/06/google-results-will-now-show-3-in-depth-articles-topics-include-censorship-and-lego/

SearchEngineLand: http://searchengineland.com/google-introducing-in-depth-articles-to-search-results-168909

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