Tough question but, do we even need Google? The one topic that continues to be discussed in business and publishing circles has returned to centre stage with recent public tantrums from News Corp screaming they plan to block Google.

In September I blogged about how publishers appear to be flipping out over how little control they have over their online content with Google News. Since then, News Corp has made a public announcement it would be moving towards a pay model by June 2010 in an attempt to claw back falling advertiser revenue – without Google.

The interesting aspect to this stand off is that unlike many other publishers, News Corp does have a competitive advantage due to its worldwide network of websites, dominance in the media and established offline promotion channels. If any media company is able to survive without traffic from Google it should be News Corporation.

To give you an understanding of the scale of News Corp’s gamble, according to Google Ad Planner from its network of 54 websites, each month News Corp receive around 11.28 million unique visitors, serves around 846,000,000 page views and reaches around 65% of all Australians. According to HitWise, 25% of all (the Wall Street Journals‘ web presence) visitors are delivered by Google. So how serious is News Corp with their against-the-tide future digital strategy.

To cloud the issue as to when News Corp will switch to its pay model, it now seems to be accepted by Rupert Murdoch that News Corp will struggle to reach the June 2010 deadline he imposed. So what’s the rush to block Google?

News Corp has apparently placed its trust in social media as a future source of visitors, but HitWise advise that currently Facebook and Twitter only deliver around 4% of visitor traffic. A likely issue is, compared to other publisher websites, News Corp is not even fully prepared for social media as sharing its news stories remains difficult in even the most popular platforms, such as Twitter.


I look at TechCrunch as an example of a media site that understands the benefits of making it easy to share content via social media. TechCrunch offers Facebook Connect for user comments, Trackback URLs for article referencing by bloggers and assists visitors by pre-generating a short URL.

The public issue between News Corp and Google appears to have started over several stress points:

  • Google launched a free real estate listing service competing with REA Group
  • Traffic drops for MySpace meant News Corp lost millions in revenue from Google
  • Google don’t pay enough to their AdSense partners or charge enough for content placement, and
  • Google News ‘steals’ publishers images, story snippets and even story headlines

So if we are to believe that News Corporation is serious, why are they contributing to Google’s revenue by buying traffic using AdWords? Also a majority of the News Corp network sites depend on Google AdWords for attracting better quality, targeted visitors and allowing them to top up website traffic to satisfy advertisers.

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There are other solutions that News Corp could explore besides
throwing in the towel in its dispute with Google.  Around the world
more publishers are either going head-to-head with Google or working to
drive as much traffic from search as possible.  Brent Payne, SEO
director for Tribune Interactive, works to ensure they get as much search traffic as possible from every story.

The Tribune methodology focuses on following white-hat guidelines and working directly with search engines:

  • Best practice SEO training is run across the Tribune group
  • Continuous optimisation, measurement and improvement of content, and
  • Ongoing development of fresh content based on current events and breaking-news

All these steps could be easily implemented by News Corp – who appear to have worked hard to build non-optimised websites. News Corp could follow Tribune Interactive’s example to vastly increase the amount of traffic leading to increased online revenue.

The BBC is also on News Corp’s firing line because, according to Murdoch, their TV licence funding allows them to compete unfairly against News Corp. This challenge seems counterintuitive as the BBC is one of the few media companies challenging the growth of Google’s embedded YouTube player. The BBC is building its own solution which it has begun providing free to other organisations.

These are two different examples of how media companies are working to ensure they remain competitive, while focusing on providing quality content and solutions – not wasting resources on a shouting match over who is right.

As Slate contributor Jack Shafer points out, in the past Murdoch has been the first to drive down the price of newspapers if he can get the volumes to work in his favour. Is this a reverse strategy to try and drive up the value of his content so News Corp gets paid more be every advertisers?

The freesheet was another failed battleground, where Murdoch started a race to the bottom by giving away his printed content with the pure advertising-supported The London Paper. So can he really play the white knight in the argument over the value of content in a fast moving digital world?

What is interesting is News Corp’s web properties still have a large number of Google AdSense modules allowing them to benefit financially from Google’s AdWords business model. News Corp appears to be playing a game of bluff as they are not making use of robots.txt to advise Google not to index their network of websites.

The process to be accepted into the Google News program and ensuring you stay up to date with their processes requires resources so why haven’t News Corp just requested to be removed? I have even provided the links – there is no reason, if Murdoch was serious about blocking Google, why he couldn’t do it today.

David Iwanow
BY David Iwanow ON 20 November 2009
With over six years digital marketing experience consulting to Australia's biggest companies and marketing agencies, you can now find David working as a SEO Product Manager at