Google has long discouraged the inclusion of paid links and advertorials in publishers’ “news” sections. In the past they’ve done so by threatening to punish those who post and promote such content without calling it by its proper name by pushing them lower down in the Google search rankings. Certain interested parties (ahem) adapted by pitching sponsored content that is somehow “guaranteed to beat” Google’s famous PageRank algorithm (we assume these guys know some code). In February the company punished a UK paper for doing just that, and last week Google’s senior director of news and social wrote a blog post warning publishers who want their content to rank in the Google News feed to separate the “paid” stuff from editorial.
Google redirects concerned parties to this page that helps them separate their content in order to make the bots’ jobs easier. Yes, it’s a few seconds of extra work for each piece — but this is the price of the “pay to play” model.
What does this mean for PR people? Probably not a whole lot. We may, however, need to start reminding clients that sponsored content and editorial are not, and will never be, the same thing (no matter how much they want the opposite to be true).