We are in a difficult period. Not due to Coronavirus, but due to Google and Google’s power over us as a minor independent news organization. After the Google Core Update in May 2020, we lost 80/90% of our regular search traffic from Google. This is not something that we are unfamiliar with, as it happened with us after Google’s Core update in June 2019.
We are not the only publisher where Google thwarts search traffic without warning or explanation. This has happened with many of the major news sites, and probably more often with smaller independent news organizations like ours.
Google claims they are supporting journalism as they write on their website:
Building a stronger future for journalism. The Google News Initiative is our effort to work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age.
While they, in fact, are doing the opposite.
Yesterday, The House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee released findings of its more than 16-month long investigation into the state of competition in the digital economy, especially the challenges presented by the dominance of Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook and their business practices.
I want to highlight a few points made in their report:
In submissions and interviews with Subcommittee staff, businesses noted that higher advertising costs come at the expense of investments in innovation and consumer benefits. One vertical search provider stated:
If the search market were fair, the internet would have four times more content on it, dramatically improving the web for consumers. Google’s gatekeeper power allows it to show more advertisements for search queries with higher commercial intent. . . . The harm to consumers is not necessarily a lack of content, but a lack of quality content (requiring money to produce).
Internal data shown by one market participant to the Subcommittee demonstrates that “organic search listings have been pushed down over time, and ‘click-throughs’ (clicking to visit a site) on the first organic results have decreased by two-thirds over the past 3 years.”
The natural result of Google’s decision to blur the distinction between paid ads and organic listings is that users click on more ads and less organic search results. This misleading practice has likely contributed to the growth of paid click-through rates on Google. One study found that over 59% of consumers were not aware of the difference between organic results and paid ads on Google, and that one third of those who did recognize paid ads said they would deliberately avoid clicking on them.1213 The Federal Trade Commission has recognized that search engines that fail to “prominently distinguish” paid ads from organic listings could be liable for deceiving consumers under Section 5 of the FTC Act.1214
What does this mean? Well, news publishers receive less traffic as Google pushes for more ad revenue and ad clicks than organic. How can they state that they want journalism to thrive in the digital age?
Our Main Concern With Google
Google controls most of the online search traffic in the western world. They can decide single-handedly which site that will gain traffic, which site will lose traffic. There are no regulations in regard to Google’s changes with its search algorithm. A multi-billion dollar company can decide how they want to portray the world to its users. Something is not adding up here.
Our case with Google
On this graph by Ahrefs.com, you can see how severely we have been affected by Google’s Core Updates.
In the image above, you can see our search traffic from Google over the past years. We have highlighted three important time periods:
- Google Core Update June 2019, loss of 70% in search traffic.
- Google Core Update January 2020, a gain of 1000% in search traffic.
- Google Core Update May 2020, loss of 80/90% in search traffic.
This is an impossible situation for us to handle. Are we a seasonally based news site? Will we continue to lose most of our search traffic during the summer, just to gain it again during the winter?
If you are an “SEO expert,” you might think you have the answer: “You have done something wrong!” I can safely say that the site remained as was from January 2020 to May 2020. Very little was changed. So this is something that is out of our reach.
I can also give you an example of another news site with an almost identical traffic pattern by Google:
If there is an issue with our site, why have other sites experienced the same tendencies? Graph from Ahrefs.com.
Our Call for Action
We have 30+ employees, freelancers, and full-timers. We take pride in delivering our readers news and Op-Eds to get discussions going. We take pride in that we are an international and independent news organization working without borders, prejudice, and discrimination.
Our call for action is that Google must help publishers who have been severely de-ranked to understand why. Why can news sites experience growth of 1000% then a drop of 80/90% within the time span of 4 months? Without a single warning or explanation in Google’s Webmaster Console? Without any major changes by the news site nor from the editorial team?
CCN is Put on Hold
We are now pausing CCN.com until the next Google Core to see if anything has changed by then. Hopefully, we will be back very soon. In the meantime, we will focus on our new venture over at Hacked. Thank you for reading our story.
Read the full report from The House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee here (PDF).
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Author: Jonas Borchgrevink