by Shane O'Neill

What Bing Can Learn from Google: Don’t Piss Off Publishers

Dec 04, 2009
Data Center

The recent rift between Rupert Murdoch and Google gives Microsoft an opportunity to earn the trust of Google-weary publishers.

The news that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, News Corp., was pulling its content out of Google and going exclusively to Bing — with Microsoft paying for it — shook up the technology and online news worlds last week.

But it turns out that’s not really happening — yet. It’s still a threat from Murdoch. But he has stated that he plans to pull News Corp. content from Google once all his sites are subscription-based.

Meanwhile, Microsoft denied that it has plans to pay for exclusive content to go on Bing. And Google, as a way to appease angry publishers like Murdoch and the Associated Press, changed how it grants access to news stories, and also made it easier for news sites to opt-out of Google News.

So will this all blow over? No way mate.

Murdoch has a history of making enemies and then going after them doggedly (What’s up Ted Turner?). Google is the latest. He’s bloody mad at them for making so much money from merely listing content that hard-working publishers create, and then not sharing the advertising revenue.

Rupert Murdoch discusses Google and the end of free Web content.

And if, like The Wall Street Journal’s site, you are charging a subscription fee for that content, Google is providing free access to your stories. In Google’s defense, it has revised its system so readers will see a registration page on paid sites after clicking through their sixth article of the day. But still, that’s six free stories on a paid site.

Initially, Murdoch’s threat to de-index his company’s content from Google seemed nuts. Why would you pull your content from a search engine that controls 65 percent of the market, and move it to Bing, which has a 10 percent market share?

But Murdoch doesn’t really care about that. Google float-ins who arrive at the WSJ site are like ghosts — they can’t be monetized because WSJ doesn’t know anything about them. What Murdoch wants is subscribers, subscribers, subscribers – something Google can’t guarantee them.

Page views don’t mean much to Murdoch if he doesn’t know anything about those doing the viewing. It’s easier to tailor ads to users whose behavior you have analyzed. Google knows this better than anyone and has been monetizing the heck out of you and me for years.

As Murdoch said recently in an interview with his Sky News Australia service about Google users who wind up at News Corp. sites: “They don’t suddenly become loyal readers of our content … We’d rather have fewer people coming to our Web site but paying.”

The traffic Google brings into the WSJ site is not as high as one might think. Web site market share tracker Hitwise reports that the site has 25 percent of its traffic come through Google. A related story in Silicon Alley Insider calculates that losing that traffic would only cost WSJ approximately $12 million.

Could Microsoft pick up that 12 million tab to have exclusive rights to News Corp. content? Right now, Microsoft is saying no.

And that’s wise. Microsoft should not just throw huge sums of money at the problem. It would look like a desperate bid to grab market share, and it’s also a gamble because more people go to search engines to look up digital cameras and restaurants than for news stories.

But the Google/Murdoch

scrap does present an opportunity for Bing to be the anti-Google, and cultivate shared ad revenue deals with publishers. Microsoft could also share general user data with publishers so they can analyze the behavior of readers coming from Bing. Publishers don’t see the value in traffic coming from search engines. Bing could change that perception and both parties could benefit financially by sharing revenue.

Microsoft is deeply invested in search. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that he plans to spend $5.5 to $11 billion on Bing over the next five years. It would be a mistake to use that cash to simply buy content. A smarter way to go is to invest in revenue-based deals with publishers, helping them make sense of search traffic and helping them make money from it.

In other words, be better at something than Google.

Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at Follow him on Twitter at Follow everything from on Twitter at