After Google News launched in 2002, some in the media world grew fond of saying the company had created a product it didn’t dare monetize. The thinking went that Google News entirely relies on major media companies, and that these firms would certainly litigate if the search giant tried to make a buck off that content.
Well the thinking was apparently wrong. Google announced last night it had begun serving ads on Google News results pages in the United States. Queries that now turn up AdWords paid listings include thermos, Kindle, marketing and many others.
In a blog post announcing the move, Google business product manager Josh Cohen said the new ads are part of an ongoing initiative to introduce paid listings in more places. The fruits of these labors so far include the addition of ads to Google Finance, Google Image Search, and YouTube video search, as well as overlay ads on embedded videos from content partners. ComScore estimates traffic to Google News Search in January was 16.5 million, up 31 percent from the year-ago period, when it hit 12.5 million. Google News is now available in more than 40 regions and 19 languages.
Google did not immediately respond to questions on the possible legal ramifications of its News search ads. Sandra Baron, executive director at the Media Law Resource Center, suggested an “economic tension” exists between publishers and Google that could bubble up into legal action.
“A significant issue for content providers is whether or not what Google provides becomes a substitute for going to the actual content providers site,” she said. “When that tension becomes too great, people seek legal solutions to it.”
That said, she said U.S. legal precedent appeared to offer no obstruction to content aggregators and search providers compiling headlines or short summaries along with links, regardless of whether those pages contain ads.
It’s a different story beyond our borders, where Google News has faced some challenges. In one high profile court case in Belgium, a group of content owners succeeded in forcing Google to remove their content from both Google.be and Google News.
Legal issues aside, Google may face a big hurdle in achieving ad relevance in Google News search, where user intent can be very different from general search. In several tests of the new ad experience, Google’s paid results seem a poor match for the apparent intent of a news query. For instance, a search for “Polo” turns up pages of news stories on the water sport, whereas the sponsored links are exclusively geared toward men’s clothing.