Thoughts on Google's Algorithmic News Inclusion Process

Since the manual Google News approval process was retired in December 2019, getting into Google News has been a murky and frustrating affair.

It used to be so simple. You launched your publishing website, made sure it ticked all the right boxes, and then filled in the relevant online forms to get a Googler to review the site.

Sometimes you’d get rejected and you had to jump through a few more hoops, but more often than not - providing you were an actual publisher of newsworthy content - your application would be approved and voila, your site would appear in Google News and Top Stories.

The process would take a few weeks at most, and for proper publishers it was almost a formality. Very rarely would a genuine publisher of news content get rejected.

All this changed in December 2019. Without any prior warning, Google launched their new Publisher Center and quietly changed the Google News inclusion process.

Gone were the manual approval forms. Now, according to the rapidly updated documentation, Google would decide automatically which websites could show up in Google News:

So out went the manual review & approval process, and in came the machines.

But there is still a manual process involved, or so it seems. To get approved in the new Publisher Center requires a manual process. It has all the hallmarks of a manual news application, including things like providing proper branding, categorisation, and an article feed, and defining content sections.

Yet getting approved in this new Publisher Center has no bearing on a website’s visibility in Google News and Top Stories. All it seems to do is allow the site to be listed as a News Source in Google News:

Being a Publisher Center approved site does not mean your articles appear in Google News and Top Stories. In fact, the Publisher Center seems entirely separate from the algorithmic Google News inclusion process - websites that are not approved in the Publisher Center appear in Google News & Top Stories all the time.

Getting Into Google News

So how does the algorithmic Google News inclusion process actually work? To date, Google’s documentation on this has been far from clear.

The original documentation - since updated - simply stated that a website simply needed to “produce high-quality content and comply with Google News content policies”.

Those content policies are fairly straightforward, and boil down to ‘be a proper news site’.

Google has updated and expanded their news-specific documentation over the last two years, including areas like transparency of authorship and ownership as detailed in a blog post here.

There are also some technical requirements such as static section page URLs, Article structured data and publication dates, and avoiding duplicate content.

Oh and there is some additional documentation about how Google selects stories for Google News, and you may want to provide your articles in a feed as well.

And then there’s an extensive FAQ for the Publisher Center, which may or may not be relevant for actual Google News inclusion.

I don’t know about you, but I find all of that more than a little overwhelming.

And that’s just a tiny selection of the official Google documentation that could be relevant and applicable to Google News. It’s all a bit of a mess, with blog posts and support docs scattered across different Google (sub)sites, saying more or less the same things but in slightly different ways.

[Note: which is why I created this Google News SEO Resources List to try and collect all the relevant articles, guides, how-tos, etc. in one place.]

So, let’s say you’re a publisher committed to doing the right thing. You’ve spent countless hours digging through the labyrinthine hallways of relevant Google documentation, and have worked hard to tick all the required boxes. Your site is technically sound and contains what Google wants. Your articles are unique and well-written, you regularly publish breaking stories, the site is fully transparent in terms of authorship and ownership and editorial policies, and it loads blindingly fast.

Obviously, Google’s algorithms will recognise this and start including your articles in Google News, right?

Two-Tier Google News

I don’t know of a single previously not-included publisher that has managed to consistently get Google News visibility since the algorithmic inclusion process was launched in December 2019.

Most excluded publishers, often websites launched after December 2019, are simply not appearing in Google News and Top Stories. None of their articles ever show up.

Sometimes a publisher gets a brief flash of News visibility, lasting a few days or weeks, to then disappear from Google News never to be seen again.

I know of at least a dozen news websites that fit most (if not all) of the requirements, and are just not getting any traction in Google News. I’ve been approached by many of these sites, asking me for solutions. And usually I can’t give any.

This fickle News inclusion process could be accepted if it applied equally to every site - including those that were previously approved for Google News through the manual process - so that everyone has an equal shot at appearing in Top Stories.

But that’s not the case.

Sites that were manually approved for Google News prior to December 2019 continue to appear in Top Stories. Their inclusion is pretty much guaranteed - their articles rank in Google News and Top Stories, and their inclusion in Google News doesn’t appear to be in any jeopardy.

It’s only publishers that weren’t approved prior to December 2019 that are having these struggles.

Essentially we now have a two-tiered Google News ecosystem. The top tier is composed of websites approved before December 2019, and they seem to have an easy ride to Google News. The lower tier is websites trying to get into Google News after December 2019, and these are just not getting anywhere.

Some of these excluded publishers are making their frustrations known publicly and vocally. Take for example the lifestyle publisher Man of Many, who are the most popular website in their niche in Australia yet are not appearing in Google News and Top Stories at all. They regularly point this out on Twitter, and have also posted a thread on the official Google News help forums (which, as I discovered when writing this newsletter, has since been deleted).

They make a compelling case, showing how their main rivals - which are all included in Google News and appear in Top Stories - are actually performing worse than manofmany.com on many metrics and Google’s news requirements. Google doesn’t seem to be able to provide a coherent response as to why Man of Many isn’t included and these competitors are.

It’s easy to find dozens of similar examples in the Google News help forums. Publishers find themselves excluded from Google News when many of their direct competitors - often with objectively poorer SEO and worse adherence to Google’s policies and requirements - are included.

Google Finally Responds. Sort of.

As the deluge of complaints keeps growing, Google has tried to provide an answer with a new blog post published recently.

Titled “Answers to some common questions about appearing in Google News”, the blog post’s 942 words contain nothing new whatsoever. It repeats what the scattered documentation says without providing any new insight whatsoever.

Basically, Google tells us to trust the system and let it do its thing.

If you find this to be somewhat unsatisfactory, you’re not alone.

Visitors from Google’s various news surfaces is a substantial source of traffic for most publishers. It’s common for news sites to get half their traffic from Google. And almost all this Google traffic comes from Top Stories and Google Discover, with some sprinkling of visits from Google News and the News tab.

The impact of a publisher’s exclusion from Google News is severe. There’s a real cost involved, with real financial impact - which, in turn, has a direct impact on people’s livelihoods.

Ignoring Google as a traffic source isn’t feasible either. With 90%+ global market share in search, Google is effectively the world’s gateway to the web. This is a responsibility Google is thoroughly unwilling to take seriously.

What Can Be Done?

The most frustrating aspect of all the above is that it demonstrates that you can jump through all of Google’s hoops, and still not get anywhere.

Google has always chanted their ‘quality’ mantras, emphasising again and again that websites should focus on publishing quality content and delivering a great experience for their users. Eventually, they say, that will be rewarded with visibility in Google’s results.

Yet this news inclusion fiasco shows that to be a lie. You can do everything right, and still fail.

If this sounds familiar, you’re right; it’s exactly the same with Google’s ever more frequent core algorithm updates.

And there is no recourse, no route for appeal. Taking your issues directly to Googlers results in the same messages being repeated back to you. It doesn’t solve anything.

All a publisher can do is make a fuss and complain publicly, hoping that it’s noticed by someone with some influence somewhere down the line.

Ironically, by not being included in Google News, publishers who make a fuss are unlikely to be noticed.

Miscellanea

Here are some interesting articles published recently that may be of interest:

If you’re wondering what impact the Page Experience / Core Web Vitals update has had, the folks at Sistrix have looked at the data and conclude: not much.

A really interesting piece from Steve Dempsey (@steevill) where he looks at how news is packaged as a product, and what publishers can do to get this aspect right.

My friend and genius-level human being Arnout Hellemans (@hellemans) found a way to extract sources from traffic labelled as ‘direct’ in Google Analytics. This is huge.

Some fresh official Google documentation about how they handle various HTTP responses and internet hiccups. Definitely worth sending to your tech folks.


In Memoriam

It’s been a rough time for the SEO industry. We recently lost two great people, both taken from us way too soon.

Dan Bell passed away on the 1st of July from the consequences of a severe accident he was in a few weeks before. I knew Dan from my early days of public speaking, a giant of a man and one of the kindest humans you’d ever meet.

This heartfelt tribute from his close friends Nichola, Amy, Sally, and Pete says more than I ever could.

Russ Jones has been a long-time contributor to the SEO industry and widely considered one of the best minds in SEO. His sudden death at the end of June came as a huge shock.

Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz where Russ worked for many years, wrote a lovely tribute which is worth reading.


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