In an attempt to encourage best practice and reduce spam complaints, Google has stated that it will heavily penalise websites which run native ads (such as “advertorial” content or sponsored stories) without full disclosure, and may even go so far as to remove entire news sites from the Google News vertical platform as punishment.
The official Google News blog states: “If a site mixes news content with affiliate, promotional, advertorial or marketing materials (for your company or another party), we strongly recommend that you separate non-news content on a different host or directory, block it from being crawled with robosts.txt, or create a Google New Sitemap for your news articles only. Otherwise, if we learn of promotional content mixed with news content, we may exclude your entire publication from Google News.”
Native advertising is a logical offshoot of content marketing and has been a boon to many online businesses. But since spotting a small number of prominent websites that published sponsored content without disclosing it to their readers, Google has taken a dim view of the increasingly widespread practice.
This new, strict attitude towards sponsored stories will no doubt mean online publications will take extra care in how they label and display their articles, enabling readers to decide for themselves which stories are worth perusing and sharing, and which can be ignored. In the past, an online magazine might have been reluctant to make any content invisible to Google, but that will likely change if the alternative is expulsion from the Google News platform.
Whether or not Google’s new regime will spell the end for native advertising depends on the ingenuity and flexibility of content marketers. With sponsored content more or less banished from the searchable Google News platform, it is possible that marketers will stretch their creative muscles and find increasingly subversive ways to obliquely integrate their message into articles that are engaging, relevant, and most importantly of all, read nothing like an ad.