SEO: Getting into Google News – no longer Possible?

Many publishers love to get into the Google News index – it offers an extra source of traffic and can really boost a site. Unfortunately, getting into News is not as easy as it looks.

A Picture of Google News
Google News: many publisher would like use this as a source of extra traffic. However, the site must fit and offer journalistic content. (Screenshot done by Rainer Gerhards on 2020-08-10)

Background: I am usually not super-interested in SEO, as our sites are “naturally relevant” and so we do not really need extra boost. However, I am of course always curios and got it even more when I started to cover the Coronavirus situation in my local home village Großrinderfeld in Germany via my German personal presence. I cover the local situation together with my (well-thought out and properly researched) analysis of the situation. Why I do this? Well, I am obviously affected by the situation, and I am also a councilman and would like to have the best available info at hand.

After a while I applied to Google news and around March I got approved. Looked good – but nothing really changed. My site isn’t visible on the News tab, nor is it indexed (a search for “site:rainer-gerhards.de” leads to nothing). And that’s still the fact at the time of this writing. So I went into Google’s Publisher Help Center – just to find out that I am not alone in this camp.

A Bit of History

Back until November 2019, you entered Google news by manual approval, only. If you were approved, your site was shown on the news search engine. Approval, as far as I know, was pretty tough and if you got in, it looked like a lifetime ticket.

Then, things changed. Since November 2019, algorithms select which sites appear on the News tab – and which not. Being approved to the Publisher Center is no longer a ticket to being listed in News – it merely gives you some extra ways to customize your site appearance. you don’t even need to apply at all. Google says “Publishers no longer need to submit their site to be eligible for the Google News app and website. Publishers are automatically considered for Top stories or the News tab of Search. They just need to produce high-quality content and comply with Google News content policies.“. All the glory details are given in the Google Publisher Center Help (but be warned: it’s not very in-depth).

In short: a news site should automatically be detected by Google and show up on the news tab. Even without being approved in the publisher center.

So is there a Problem?

Well… some people feel so. I admit I am among them. As I said above: we have sites that are highly relevant in regular Google search – but are not indexed at all in Google search. For my personal situation, for example, I get sometimes featured snippets, sometimes show up on Google Discover and am indexed really fast. Regular Google search loves my site. I usually rank higher or equally well than those sites that show up in the news tab. But am not visible myself there at all. All the sites that show up were, of course, approved before November 2019.

Other site owners report that news sites that copied their post (stolen? RSS syndication?) show up on the exact same keywords with the exact same articles – while the original site is not shown at all.

At least for me, I can say I abide to the content policies. Others claim so as well. This all smells like a bug and the bad (and frustrating news) is that nobody in Publisher Help can give a real explanation. Being the curios one that I am, this drives my crazy and makes me investigate the root cause.

A Bug? Really? Or maybe more a missing Ingredient?

Knowing Google from it’s day one (yes, I am longer on the Internet than Google…), I know there could be a bug. But unlikely that it affects search quality and is undetected for many months. So I guess there must be some ingredient that we do not know and Google does not talk about.

This theory is kind of proven by the fact that at least one problem report talks about a site that was in Google News and disappeared. So it looks like pre-11/2019 approved sites can also loose something (ranking?) and be de-indexed from Google News. That’s, in a sense, good news, as this means that actually is something one can try to do to improve the situation. Unfortunately, as we do not know what that ingredient is, it requieres quite some work to find a solution – if at all possible.

Keep in mind that Google News is originally meant for journalistic content, written by real journalists. So what the site has must be newsworthy, and it must not be spammy and it for sure is insufficient just to have verbatim copies of press releases. Mine has none of that, and it still isn’t considered for news. So the assumption is that actually is a problem. It may not be resolvable, like a requirement that a site belongs to a professional news publishing organization.

Plan Forward… Can we get included?

I unfortunately do not (yet) have a solution. But I intend to tell about potential approaches and things I find out while trying to solve the mystery. For starters, double- check that

  • the site abides to the Google News content policies
  • very new sites will probably take some time to surface – I would bet that you need to see your site rank well in regular search before hoping to see it in the news tab. Be patient.
  • Make sure that there is a clear indication of the author and his or her expertise. Many WordPress themes, for example, do not provide this by default.
  • Make sure spelling and grammar is correct and easy to grasp. This is not just a sign of quality, but also helps Google understand your site. Given the current state of AI and artificial language understanding it is already hard to understand a well-written text. Errors will probably very badly affect the machine understanding. Yes. for no-native speakers this is harder; but life isn’t easy (and my English will probably penalize this post in regular search as well ;-)).
  • Check the web credibility of your web site (e.g. via moz.org). Keep in mind that backlinks are “not everything” and bad backlinks (e.g. paid or bad neighborhood) can hurt a site.
  • validate your feeds and abide to the feed content guidelines
  • check the TLS settings of your web site (thanks to Viacheslav Varenia for the tip)
  • learn about the machine learning techniques Google employs to surface News content
  • cite your source, show the work you have done in researching your article (that’s actually a 1998 “how to write good HTML” type of tip…)
  • if you run a WordPress site, you may want to try the “GN Publisher” plugin written by Chris Andrews, who frequently answers questions in the publisher help center (disclaimer: I have not tried this yet, but it’s definitely on my list)

These are just some tips to get started. I mostly got them from the Publisher Support Forum (thx everyone!) and experience developed in 20+ years with Google.

Any hints in what may be wrong with, or what may be the secret ingredient are deeply appreciated. The same is true if your site unexpectedly surfaced or was deleted from Google News index. Just send me an email or post a comment.

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