OPINION: Anti-Google deal would hurt Bing

Speculation out of Redmond, Wash., is indicating that Microsoft Corp. is flirting with the idea of paying News Corp. to remove its news Web sites from Google Inc.’s search engine.

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The two companies are apparently in the early stages of a deal, which would basically keep all News Corp. content exclusive to Microsoft’s Bing search engine.


This development, which was broken over the weekend by The Financial Times, is not the first time that Microsoft has approached a major publisher to de-list from Google. Microsoft has also contacted a variety of major online publishers about removing their sites from Google, the report said.


It’s not unfathomable to imagine that News Corp. chair Rupert Murdoch might actually consider this deal, seeing as the publisher has publically expressed discontent over online search engines and their ability to profit from his content via search advertising. But the question remains: Will it actually be worth it?


So let’s consider who would benefit the most from this deal.


For starters, Microsoft would basically be buying the exclusive rights to news sites like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post. While these properties would nice for Bing users, it probably wouldn’t convert the average online user to its search engine.


Also, it wouldn’t be surprising if the terms of the deal would actually force Microsoft to modify Bing’s search algorithm in favour of News Corp.’s sites.


This stipulation would probably all depend on how much money Microsoft is willing to dish out for these exclusive rights. Like any investment, the more money you spend, the more return on investment you expect. The only way that will be achieved is to actually push the News Corp. content as exclusive and have those sites show up on the first page of related Bing results.


If this occurred, you might get some Bing users that are put off by that tactic and actually switch over to Google.


But in any event, I’d argue the average online user won’t even be aware of this News Corp. deal.


Let’s say you have someone who uses Google for the vast majority of their searching needs, but is also a loyal WSJ reader and logs on to that site every day via a Google search. Such a user would probably be puzzled that the WSJ wasn’t returning any results and just log-on to the WSJ site directly rather than break the habit of going to Google.


Now, from News Corp.’s perspective, the company would benefit from getting Microsoft’s cash, but take a hit on traffic from the loss of incoming Google users. But while the deal might give News Corp. a boost in the short term, what are the long-term effects of giving its competition a leg up on Google?


Bing is still way behind Google in the search market, so other publishers would probably welcome News Corp.’s exit, and in the long run, it could lead to better numbers for a few rival news sites.


If I was in Murdoch’s shoes, I’d put this one on the shelf and look for another way to boost revenues. This deal would be unlikely to pan out in the long-term.


The Financial Times report, which quoted an anonymous Web publisher familiar with the plan, indicated that Microsoft’s interest in the deal is primarily to force Google to start paying for content.


For this to work, quite a few publishers would have to put their content up for sale. This is very unlikely, and as I said, the reverse effect could actually occur.


Microsoft should realize that it has managed to gain more momentum than anybody ever thought it would with Bing. Why screw that up with a deal that might actually push some users away?


An investment in News Corp.’s news properties has little chance of paying off in the long run. The company would be wise to continue its advertising push and actually make the search experience better if it wants to continue to cut into Google’s search market.

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