Before this week, Google was always just... Well, Google. King of kings in a realm that is not fond of regulation.
And as far as we knew, despite our sometimes desperate pleas, Google has never really tried to be a regulator.
The search engine provided no filtering process or rules besides the frequently referenced but almost mythical "algorithm" and a user's ability to make his search more concise if he wants it that way. The genius of its design has always been its user-friendly ability to suggest what a person wants. So, when a user broadly searches "Aaron Rodgers" because he specifically wants updates on Rodgers' progress in practice coming off of his recent injury, Google will instead take such a search query at face-value and provide a diverse array of content to the user.
In an ideal world, it would almost be considerate. But alas, such idealistic concepts are completely wasted on the web, a place whose content ecosystem has been overrun by the brainchildren of too many cynical, Silicon Valley scumbags.
And, more times than not, a simple search query like the aforementioned will lead to a result - or multiple results - like this.
As Bleacher Report founder and resident Twitter troll Bryan Goldberg has stated in the past, since his site's content is so "different" from that of journalistic entities like CBS Sports, SI, ESPN, AP, etc., Google has been able to more easily crawl to Bleacher Report's content since its inception in 2008.
When the site went public, B/R's platform was fresher and better geared towards search than most others in its genre and had a crew of Google-obsessed minions assigning asinine topics based on popular searches to a legion of as many as 6000 writers in 2010. Trending Google topics are still the backbone of Bleacher Report's assignment sheets going into 2014, but now, the site's 1000 daily articles are produced by a small "staff" of only 1000 writers. Through this still existent legion of writers, Bleacher Report was and still is able to usurp a number of online articles that might have catered to a Google user's search query better.
The battle for Google in the sports world was won years ago.
Bleacher Report's "different" content was pumped on a larger scale than any of its competitors. Equally important, but regularly unmentioned, was the typical Bleacher Reporter's perpetual quest for greater exposure or a more secure, paid position. In that pursuit, the writers not only produced the content, but they were also the backbone of Bleacher Report's backlinking strategy.
Forum posts, tweets, Facebook posts, Reddit links, shares from reputable websites, etc.
Convinced his work was more his creative property than Bleacher Report's, each Bleacher Reporter was fully motivated to promote his content beyond the realm of just Bleacher Report. In late 2010, 75% of the naive dreamers were cut. Less than two years later, Bleacher Report was acquired by Turner for just under $200 million.
The backlinks, like the articles, still exist for the most part.
The tactics that Bleacher Report has always employed were not and still are not classified as "black-hat" SEO tactics by any stretch, but the story of how the company built itself into an online behemoth within its genre almost solely through search sounds awfully familiar... Via Reuters yesterday:
If you try to game Google, you're bound to get burned. Such is the case with Rap Genius, a site that hosts and explains lyrics to songs and copy from other texts.
In an attempt to rank higher in Google search, the site solicited bloggers to link to Rap Genius pages in exchange for exposure via Rap Genius' social media channels. While Google generally views backlinks from reputable sites as a positive ranking factor, paying for backlinks is commonly considered an unacceptable SEO strategy.
I, like so many others, do not know why Google chose to make an example of Rap Genius. I, unlike so many others, do not think this is the beginning of a great cleanup campaign. More than likely, Google is just flexing, but still... Maybe, just maybe, Google is actually listening.
So, while many folks continue to fight the good fight for general web searches on Google to be cleaner, The BRR will be examining an even more pressing issue today; one that has been bubbling just underneath the surface of the SEO-whoring conversation...
Bleacher Report's relationship with Google News.
The topic is not a new one by any means. Since the definition of news can be so subjective, we decided to play by Bleacher Report's rules to avoid any accusations of elitism. The passage comes to us via the B/R Bible, King Kaufman's Version:
For the purpose of writer evaluations, Bleacher Report divides all stories into three primary types: News Reports, Argumentative Articles and Ranked Lists...
If the main purpose of an article is to make a subjective argument, the story is classified and reviewed as an Argumentative Article. The headlines for Argumentative Articles typically include words or phrases like "should," "must" and "reasons that."
While the news of Rap Genius' Google banishment is timely, know that this is something that The BRR planned to do as soon as I found this excerpt and created a post for the B/R e-book last month. It's easy for critics to say that Bleacher Report is clogging Google News with irrelevant content based purely on observation, and it's almost as easy for Bleacher Report to deny these kinds of criticisms completely.
We decided to put any debate to rest by waiting a month to actually tally the results and provide both sides with tangible measures based on Bleacher Report's own, on-the-record definition of news.
We ran two separate advanced Google News searches for each "typically Argumentative article term" (i.e. "should," "must," and "reasons") for only Bleacher Report during the periods of November 21st - November 30th and December 1st - December 20th of this year. We combined the results to get a better view of the entire month. Although we found plenty of results that used exactly these terms in their titles, we opted to use all of Google News' displayed results for our queries to garner a larger sample size.
Fantasy football news (unless it made a blatantly subjective argument), game guides/picks with betting lines, and anything that could be remotely viewed as newsworthy were counted as such. Our hope in doing this was not to skew the results in Bleacher Report's favor, but since we have been labeled by our dear friends in San Francisco as hacks who are solely out to hurt their feelings, we opted - for once - to give them a few points... even when they may not have actually earned those points. Aggregated news content, of course, was also counted as newsworthy.
*Note: Some articles were displayed as results in multiple queries.
As displayed in the graph, the results were not pretty for Bleacher Report. The "argumentative article" terms certainly do live up to their billing, leading to many argumentative/subjective articles with little in the way of news, if any at all. However, the amount of these articles that have found their way onto Google News is alarming, to say the least, with each search query pulling in at least 235 displayed results.
Naturally, our next question was: is this normal?
Since the sites serve different purposes, though, the comparison just was not reliable enough. Bleacher Report produces some news. None of it is actually broken by anyone at Bleacher Report, but there are aggregated news items on their website.
The next apparent partner for the comparison test was BuzzFeed, a website that is less search oriented and more focused on social media but has plenty of terrible content and a shoddy reputation of its own to boot. Although they exist in different genres - and BuzzFeed's 100 pieces of daily content is only 1/10th of Bleacher Report's daily output- we decided to go ahead with it anyway.
We continued to try to draw the most irrelevant content out from hiding on both sites; this time, the key search term used was "best" and the period of time used was "past month." For B/R, "Best Tweet" articles were counted as newsworthy.
For BuzzFeed, entertainment/celebrity news items were counted as newsworthy, even ones as ridiculous as Justin Bieber falling off of his skateboard since we are trying to remain in line with Bleacher Report's philosophy on news. However, articles that reminisced on an author's experiences at a One Direction concert were counted as non-news.
After the first series of searches, Bleacher Report's results were roughly in line with what we had grown to expect, but BuzzFeed (BuzzFeed?!) sort of impressed us with a clear vision embedded in utilizing Google News to better push its political/breaking content to the masses.
"We are very focused on making stuff people want to share on social and pay much less attention to search," said Ben Smith, BuzzFeed's Editor-In-Chief, "In part because [Google] struggles to promote quality news. That said, we also have a more limited news sitemap and try to point Google News only to our harder news content."
So, if BuzzFeed can make an effort to ensure that its slightly more high-minded content is not homogenized with its Disney Princess lists through search, why can't Bleacher Report? It is a question that only Finko and his goons can properly answer, but that answer will not come until Bleacher Report's higher ups cop to their manipulation of Google, regardless of how subtle or blatant that manipulation has been.
In hopes of our pals at B/R eating up, we've baked a pie and left it on the window sill.
We ran a search for "site:bleacherreport.com" on Google News around 7 AM. Of the 157 displayed results in the past 24 hours, only 51 items were newsworthy. In accordance with Bleacher Report's standards and their affinity for rehashing material, all four different (but totally identical) articles that listed this year's Pro Bowl players were categorized as newsworthy.