August 24, 2016 Last Updated 7:57 am

Google to lower ranking of any site using pop-ups; NYT confirms its Moscow bureau hacked

Morning Brief: Google says that starting next year, pages containing interstitials (pop-up advertising) could be ranked lower, a potential problem for some newspaper publishers who do not consider reader experience a priority

The search engine giant Google yesterday said that beginning next year, any site using pages where the content is not easily accessible – that is, where there are annoying ads – will be have their pages ranked lower. This is great news for readers, bad news for publishers like Gannett who insist on being obnoxious.

Starting on January 10, 2017, the new rules will take effect, giving publishers plenty of time to adjust, assuming they want to.

Examples of what Google is looking at:

  • Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

As you can see, the real issue here are the use of interstitials, in general, and specifically how they appear on mobile devices. If you are confused, Google provided examples of all three.


Google also said that there are cases where interstitials would be acceptable – for age verification, for instance.

Gannett-iPhone6-380The problem for publishers is that Google, like Apple, is inconsistent, and occasionally nonsensical. For instance, this site has been dinged by the Google Adsense folks for displaying nudity on the site.

Have you ever seen nudity on TNM? Me neither. The cases they point to were pictures featuring Playboy magazine covers. None contained any nudity at all, and likely Google has targeted the word “Playboy” without verifying that there was actual nudity involved. Google has also dinged TNM’s sister website for displaying advertising “disguised as editorial content” – but since the site only contains Google Adsense advertising and house ads for events, any violation would have come from Google itself.

“Remember, this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content,” Google’s Webmaster Central Blog said. We’ll see if it changes any publisher’s actual behavior.

One area not mentioned by Google, though, was metered paywalls. Is using an interstitial to introduce a paywall acceptable? A lot of newspapers, in particular, do it.

The Russians are at it again.

CNN yesterday reported that the FBI and other security agencies are looking into hacks targeting reporters at The New York Times and other news organizations.

“Like most news organizations we are vigilant about guarding against attempts to hack into our systems,” said New York Times Co. spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told CNN. “There are a variety of approaches we take up to and including working with outside investigators and law enforcement. We won’t comment on any specific attempt to gain unauthorized access to The Times.”

Actually, NYT reporters Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger later confirmed that there had, in fact, been an attack.

“The New York Times’s Moscow bureau was the target of an attempted cyberattack this month. But so far, there is no evidence that the hackers, believed to be Russian, were successful,” the NYT reporters said.

Russian hackers have been accused of being behind the hack of Democratic National Committee emails, and working with WikiLeaks to publish the hacked emails and undermine the election of Hillary Clinton in support of her opponent Donald Trump. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has made it clear that he is no fan of the former Secretary of State.

“I have had years of experience in dealing with Hillary Clinton and have read thousands of her cables,” Assange recently said. “Hillary lacks judgement and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism. Her personality combined with her poor policy decisions have directly contributed to the rise of ISIS.

“She’s a war hawk with bad judgement who gets an unseemly emotional rush out of killing people,” Assange said.

Released Clinton emails showed that Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel had sent an advanced copy of his story to the DNC saying “per agreement … any thoughts appreciated,” forcing the website to later apologize.

It may be that Russian hackers were looking for direct links between reporters and the press… and they would find them since reporters routinely communicate with the campaigns, both of them.

“News organizations are considered top targets because they can yield valuable intelligence on reporter contacts in the government, as well as communications and unpublished works with sensitive information, US government officials believe,” wrote Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz of CNN.

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