Have you ever searched Google for an online coupon, and found yourself on a news website? Why does the Wall Street Journal’s website have a page filled with Kohl’s coupon codes? Why is the Washington Post devoting a page on its site to Sephora promo codes? Are they just providing a public service to help you save while you learn about the news of the day?

Google doesn’t think so. As a result, it may make websites like that harder to find, so a search for coupons will take to you an actual coupon site, instead of to a site pretending to be one.

The search engine giant has announced updates to its spam policies, to help prevent “the lowest-quality content” from manipulating Google’s algorithms in order to appear near the top of your search results. Such content includes useless websites crammed with popular keywords, expired websites that are revived and filled with spammy content, and websites that leverage their popularity to include “sponsored, advertising, partner, or other third-party pages that are typically independent of a host site’s main purpose or produced without close oversight or involvement of the host site, and provide little to no value to users.”

Like, say, coupon pages on a news site?

Pages like that are often disparagingly called “subdomain spam,” and Google’s new spam policies seem to frown upon them. Among its examples of “site reputation abuse,” which is now a no-no, is “a news site hosting coupons provided by a third-party with little to no oversight or involvement from the hosting site, and where the main purpose is to manipulate search rankings.”

“Many publications host coupons for their readers,” Google goes on to explain. You would expect to find coupons on a deals blog, or a shopping site. But on a general news website or some other site that has nothing to do with shopping or saving money? Seems like that won’t be allowed anymore. Yet, it depends.


Among the exceptions Google lists are “coupons that are listed with close involvement of the hosting site.” If the website “is actively involved in the production of the coupon area, there’s no need to block this content from Google Search,” the new rules explain. “Readers should clearly understand how the publication sources its coupons and how it works to ensure that the coupons provide value to readers.”

It may be no surprise, then, that many of the companies that power these coupon pages for various publications have been quick to point out how very closely involved their publisher partners are in maintaining the coupon sections of their sites, and how much value those coupons provide to their readers.

“We have always worked closely with our publishers to deliver for advertisers and know that we provide real value to consumers,” Dan Cohen, the Group Commercial Director at Savings United, told the online marketing site Hello Partner. Savings United powers the coupon pages for a number of online news sites, as does Global Savings Group, whose Head of Marketing Ben Smye told Hello Partner that it “works closely with all of our partners,” with the goal of helping readers “get the best value when shopping online.”

The question is whether Google and its algorithms buy that explanation. Does, say, the Los Angeles Times really have a dedicated team actively working with third-party providers to scour the web for the best coupon codes to feature on its coupon page, in a sincere effort to help its readers get the best value when shopping online?

The reality is that these coupon pages are a reliable source of income for online news sites. They partner with companies that maintain the coupon collections, they publish their codes, and when people use the coupons, the news sites and the coupon companies split the affiliate revenue they get from the retailers. Online news publications are some of the most-visited sites on the web, so coupon publishers like to piggyback on their popularity in order to appear high in Google search results. Just try Googling “Kohl’s coupons,” and you’ll find that USA Today, Reuters and Time magazine are among the top results – ahead of many actual coupon sites.

Google is rolling out its updates over the course of the month. And so far, it appears the search engine isn’t penalizing news sites with coupon subdomains just yet. But even Google admits its algorithms aren’t perfect. “We expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%,” Google predicted. So the goal is not perfection, but an honest effort to “reduce the amount of low-quality content on Search and send more traffic to helpful and high-quality sites.”

So if you like getting your news with a side of savings, you’re in luck for at least a little while longer. But these changes could end up meaning you’ll need to seek out your news on a news site, and your coupons on a coupon site. As for your coupon news – well, hopefully you already know the best place to find that.

Image source: Mockupr

One Comment

  1. Hope we will still get coupons . Not to hard to find.

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