It turns out Google is serious about ensuring that a search for coupons leads you to an actual coupon site.

Not long ago, if you Googled for something like “Kohl’s coupons” or “Michaels coupons,” you’d get a lot of results from news websites like the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today – all of which somewhat incongruously feature coupon codes alongside their headlines.

Today, though, those searches are much more likely to direct you to coupon sites rather than news sites masquerading as coupon providers.

Currently, the first organic search result for “Michaels coupons” is Michaels’ website itself, followed by RetailMeNot, Groupon, Coupons.com, Coupon Cabin and CouponFollow. The first news website to show up is U.S. News & World Report – as the 39th result. Similarly, a search for “Kohl’s coupons” gives you dozens of results from Kohl’s and dedicated coupon code sites, before USA Today shows up as the first news site, a full 59 positions down the list.

That’s a far cry from just a week ago, when many news sites ranked among the top results in a Google coupon search, making coupon-seeking users much more likely to visit a news site than a dedicated coupon or shopping site.

So it would appear that many news sites’ recent efforts to convince Google that there’s a legitimate reason their editorial mission of bringing you the news is enhanced by also providing you with coupon codes, didn’t accomplish what they had hoped. And now actual coupon sites are reaping the benefits.


Back in March, Google announced an update to its spam policies, saying “third-party content produced primarily for ranking purposes,” such as “hosting coupons provided by a third party,” “without close oversight of a website owner” and “intended to manipulate Search rankings” would be considered spam and penalized by ranking lower, if at all, in Google search results.

That was a shot across the bow of what’s become a cottage industry of news publishers essentially renting out a page on their websites to third-party coupon code providers. Well-known news sites already rank highly in Google search results. By partnering with third-party coupon code providers like Savings United, Global Savings Group and TSG Commerce, the sites were able to leverage their Google popularity by bringing more eyeballs to the third-party providers’ coupons, earning a commission every time someone used them.

But Google’s update branded this as search result manipulation, explaining that “such content ranking highly in Search can confuse or mislead visitors who may have vastly different expectations for the content on a given website” – such as expecting to find news on a news site, and not coupon codes.

Many of these sites and their third-party coupon providers latched onto what they perceived as a potential escape clause in Google’s announcement: “If the publication is actively involved in the production of the coupon area, there’s no need to block this content from Google Search.” So in recent weeks, news sites fell all over themselves explaining on their sites just how actively involved they are in maintaining their coupon pages, hoping Google could be convinced to leave them alone.

And it didn’t work.

Whether news sites posted elaborate explanations about how they source their coupon codes, simple disclaimers about their affiliate relationships, or nothing at all, they all appear to have been equally penalized. Others have simply given up, with sites including Forbes and now the Wall Street Journal among those unpublishing their coupon code pages altogether.

So Google’s move is a blow to the business model of these news websites and their coupon partners. But it’s a boon to dedicated coupon sites that will now feature more prominently in Google searches and earn more visits. And for Google itself, it’s meant to be a step in the right direction in protecting the integrity of its search results. Now, if you Google for an online coupon, you’re much more likely to be directed to a site that specializes in nothing but coupons. And that’s a news story many of the affected news sites likely hoped they’d never have to report.

Image source: Mockuper

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