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Microsoft-News Corp. Talks: A Marriage Made in Hell?

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Two weeks ago, I commented on Rupert Murdoch's threat that News Corp. was thinking of blocking Google from being able to search its Web sites: "Murdoch to Google: Drop Dead."

Now it appears that Microsoft and News Corp. are talking about a deal that would involve News Corp getting paid to prevent its news content from being indexed by Google, Google News, Yahoo! and Yahoo! News and only get found when you did a search on Bing.

Is this a marriage made in hell?

Yesterday, Bill Tancer, General Manager of Global Research at Hitwise, double-checked his data in a post entitled, "News Corp. - If You de-Index Will They Still Come?"

According to Tancer, Google referred over 15 percent of WSJ.com's traffic and Google News referred 11 percent as of last week. He analyzed Google search terms driving traffic to the Journal, and found the top 100 terms accounted for almost 22 percent of all Google search traffic to WSJ.com. Of that 22 percent, over 13 percent were navigational or brand searches (e.g. "Wall Street Journal," "WSJ," and "WSJ.com"). "Even if Murdoch decides to block Google, these navigational search queries will most likely remain intact," said Tancer.

Of the remaining 8 percent, the majority of searches were for stock quotes, and general business related searches. "Most specific news related searches fill-out the long tail of search queries. While the Journal may lose traffic if it ceases to cooperate with Google the loss may be less then anticipated," he added.

However, the potential loss of Google News traffic is potentially more serious. Over the past three years, WSJ.com's traffic from Google News has grown from 2 percent to over 11 percent.

google news to newspapers.png As you can see in the Hitwise table to the left, the Journal is receiving more than double the traffic from Google News than newspaper sites overall -- a custom category including national and regional papers. Bing, the potential News Corp. suitor for search exclusivity provides less than half of Google News' volume as of last week.

As newspapers continue to search for a way out of the search rip current, some are rooting for Murdoch's maverick de-index strategy. Nevertheless, the numbers bring us back to reality. Observes Tancer, "As print continues to hemorrhage readership, could blocking your most significant traffic source be a wise choice?"

That's not what Gordon McLeod seemed to say during his keynote speech at Search Engine Strategies New York 2008. McLeod is president of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, which includes WSJ.com, MarketWatch.com, Barrons.com, Dow Jones Classified Ventures, and the recently launched AllThingsD.com.

But that was then and this is now. And Bing may change the dynamic, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. I think the Microsoft-News Corp. talks are a marriage made in hell.

This reminds me of the movie "Newsies," with Joseph Pulitzer trying to out-muscle the kids "carrying the banner." As Jack Kelly says in the movie, "Well, dat's da foist thing ya gotta learn - headlines don't sell papes. Newsies sell papes." And Murdoch needs to learn that his news content doesn't send traffic to the Journal. Google sends traffic to the Journal.

News Corp. doesn't have a monopoly on high quality business news. I can use Google and Google News to find high quality business news from hundreds of "fair and balanced" sources.

Am I wrong? Let me know what you think by posting a comment below.


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