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Google Guidance for News Coverage

In December of last year Google made some drastic changes to Google News, specifically to how it selects websites that feature in the news vertical and related areas of Google’s search ecosystem such as the Top Stories carousel and the Discover feed.

Previously, news publishers had to apply to be included in Google News and there was a manual verification process.

In the current Google News, sites and articles are automatically selected and publishers do not need to apply to be included in Google News. As per the official support documentation:

This seismic shift in Google’s approach to news publishers was hidden among the support documentation surrounding the new Publisher Center, which replaced the old partner dashboard that Google News-approved publishers had access to.

In this new Publisher Center, publishers can control certain aspects of their sites’ visibility in Google’s news-related elements, such as their branding and topical focus areas. Additionally, getting through the new Publisher Center’s approval process means a site can be included in the Newsstand app on Android mobile devices, and opens up additional monetisation opportunities.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from publishers whether they need to go through the verification process in the new Publisher Center to be included in Google News. The answer is no, you don’t need to be verified in the Publisher Center to show up in Google News or other news-focused areas of Google. However, I do recommend going through the process to ensure your site is properly categorised and branded in Google’s news ecosystem.

Since that initial launch of the new publisher center and the abandonment of the manual approval process for Google News, their support documentation for publishers has steadily expanded to provide more details on the new approach to news content in Google.

In addition to clearer guidance on how sites can now be considered for Google News, the official webmaster blog has also published information about best practices for publishers regarding news coverage of current events.

In this new guide, Google is of course emphasising their AMP standard (my thoughts on which can be read here, nonetheless I do recommend publishers implement AMP lest they cut off their nose to spite their face).

Google highlights the importance of adding article structured data to your AMP articles, especially the article’s publication date:

“We also recommend that you provide a publication date so that Google can expose this information in Search results, if this information is considered to be useful to the user.”

When you’re live-streaming a news event, Google wants you to use the BroadcastEvent structured data markup and submit your relevant content through their Indexing API.

“If you are live-streaming a video during an event, you can be eligible for a LIVE badge by marking your video with BroadcastEvent. We strongly recommend that you use the Indexing API to ensure that your live-streaming video content gets crawled and indexed in a timely way. The Indexing API allows any site owner to directly notify Google when certain types of pages are added or removed.”

This public acknowledgement of the indexing API leads me to believe Google will be putting more focus on that technology. I wouldn’t be surprised if later in 2020 Google will allow news publishers (and perhaps all publishers) to start tapping in to the API to get their content quickly in to Google’s index.

While potentially subject to abuse, a public indexing API makes perfect sense for a search engine that operates at the scale Google does; it basically moves the effort of discovering new content from Google’s crawlers to publishers’ technology stacks. So, essentially, it’ll save Google money.

Lastly, in this webmaster blog post Google advises publishers to ensure their AMP articles are also updated in Google’s AMP cache whenever changes are made to the articles. This is obviously something Google struggles with, as once an article is cached in the AMP cache it’s not always updated when the publisher’s version changes. Hence Google needs publishers to tell it when an AMP article has changed.

This latest webmaster blog from Google is quite technical and focused on a narrow niche (news publishers). It shows Google wants publishers to become more technically adept at maximising their content for News visibility. It’s an area of news SEO that I also focus heavily on and hope to share more of my insights and experience with in the coming months at relevant events and through this blog.

I feel Google is close to perfecting its topical evaluations of news publishers when it comes to which sites to trust and for which topics. Yet the technical realities of news SEO are still somewhat lagging behind Google’s envisaged ideal scenario.

Publishers will need to ensure their websites are constantly improved and stay abreast of the demands Google places on their technologies. No matter how good your news content is, it’ll only be surfaced in Google search if the search engine can properly process it.

This is not something you just want to take for granted. Google’s technology keeps changing and progressing, which means your news site needs to do the same.

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