It is a tough time to be a web publisher.
Google’s alteration of Google Images sent publisher’s Image search referrals plummeting by 75%+. There is little doubt that mid double digit percentages of search users fail to realize that “Image may be subject to copyright” photos are indeed copyright. This is a plus for Google’s brand, as long as the user isn’t looking at graphic crime scene photos or hardcore porn.
Google’s Images changes was just a test to see how publisher’s and content owners would react.
Why even leave Google.com to view a search result? What started as jumbo-thumbnail previews of page content is now moving to the page itself. While Wikipedia’s licensing enables this particular example free of legal ambiguity, Google’s intentions thanks to a little caching notice seem explicit.
This inline “cache” is fully viewable at the following URL: http://www.google.com/search?q=haskell&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari#itp=open4&norc=1 (set an iPhone useragent to view, or look on your phone.)
What Google is doing means not only does a potential visitor have to click your result on the SERP (page title launches inline cached view), they have to click on another link on your page itself before they actually make it to your page. Ouch! Given the brazenness of the Google Images changes, count this now obscure Wikipedia change to be applied everywhere.
Google’s behavior is aggressive. The legal boundaries for content ownership are being pushed. For pure content publishers the future does not look pretty.
There is good news. Google is shutting down enough of their own products that we can now predict whats next.
This means that a worry that Google will simply eliminate market after market of premium service by releasing a competitor for free is passing. When Google acquired Urchin and rolled out Google Analytics it looked like the market for web site statistics software was dead. Today a wide ecosystem of powerful commercial platforms exist from Mixpanel to KISSmetrics. Others, such as CrazyEgg perform very specific functions. As Google continues to tighten its internal focus which replacing its own internal content with ads, innovative third party tools will thrive.
Secondly, common users are becoming more distrustful of Google in the first place. Once only paranoid affiliate marketers worried that an IP mix up would result in an Adwords account avoided Google’s services. Today, core users are getting cold feet after the execution of Google Reader and unwanted modifications to Gmail’s UI. Doubt about the longevity of a given service makes companies dedicated solely to a single product look more appealing, even when they are pay-for-use.
The way visitors end up at your web site is changing. Google+ and YouTube are turning in to platforms where us, the middle men, will be removed. If we don’t personally create content we serve of little value. In the past, monetizing users aggressively enabled rapid scaling through direct response marketing. In the very near future Google is going to want you to pay for every single visit.
This is certainly the ending of an era not just for publishers, but for all content businesses.