External traffic to Spanish news sites plummets after Google move

As expected, Google removed all Spanish publishers from its Google News index on Tuesday, which the company said it was forced to do as a result of a new law — a law that publishers themselves lobbied for — which requires anyone using even a short snippet of copyrighted content to pay a fee. According to the web-analytics service Chartbeat, within hours of their removal from the Google service, Spanish media sites saw their external traffic fall by double digits.

Josh Schwartz, the chief data scientist at Chartbeat, said the company doesn’t track every Spanish news site or publisher, but it has enough data on them as a group to indicate just how dramatic the traffic decline was. The service tracks about 50 sites, he said, ranging from small media outlets to the largest newspaper publishers, and looking at the data shows “a pretty massive difference” in traffic compared to a similar day before the removal. On average the drop is between 10 and 15 percent (Chartbeat only includes traffic from clients who have consented to have their anonymized data used).

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The entire Google News site in Spain was removed at about 8:30 pm Eastern time on Monday, replaced by a message from Google saying the search company was “incredibly sad to announce” the removal of Spanish publishers and the closure of the site. The company said it could not pay Spanish news sites for snippets of content because Google News itself doesn’t make any money, but that it was still “committed to helping the news industry meet challenges” in other ways.

Spain is only the latest country to get into a content fight with Google over news: German publishers helped lobby for a similar law to the one in Spain — although it doesn’t require that publishers charge for excerpts, as the Spanish law does, by setting up what’s called an “inalienable right.” German publishers forced Google to remove their content, but after seeing the dramatic decline in traffic, which was also in the double digits, they rescinded that request.

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Spanish publishers are now asking for help from the government because of the impact of the law, even though Google warned that it would have to remove their links if the law was passed (any links to Spanish sites are also removed from other content on non-Spanish versions of Google News, but they remain available through a regular Google search).

According to Chartbeat’s data, overall traffic to Spanish publishers hasn’t fallen by as much, but the amount of external traffic has declined sharply, while the amount of internal traffic — coming from other Spanish publishers — has risen. Schwartz said this suggests that readers are moving between different Spanish news sites more than they did previously, rather than coming to them from links at Google News and other sources.