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The Super Bowl Starts at 6:30 and Google Knows It, So We Can Stop This Now

A deal with the NFL means Web publishers lose a cheap traffic ploy. (But maybe it will still work!)

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The Super Bowl starts at 6:30 eastern today, when the Seattle Seahawks play the New England Patriots. NBC will broadcast the event, which will be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

You know this, of course. Everyone knows this. Yet for years lots of people who are professional journalists — or are at least employed at websites — have spent time writing about the Super Bowl’s start time in the hope that Google would reward them for it.

And it worked! Though everyone in the know laughed about it, someone somewhere would ask Google what time the Super Bowl was starting, and Google would answer, and some site, somewhere, would be rewarded with a click.

The Huffington Post figured this out first, but everyone does it now — and for every big event. Gawker has done the best parody.

But now, Google has yanked the football away from Web publishers, Charlie Brown-style. As a result of its deal with the NFL, a Google search for “what time does the Super Bowl start” gives you … exactly what you want, right at the top:

I still think it’s weird that Google now has explicit commercial deals to feature specific content at the top of its “organic” search results. Then again, this is precisely the information that everyone who asks Google about Super Bowl kickoff time wants to see. I do wonder if people’s non-reaction to this will change if Larry Page starts doing the same thing with lots of other search queries …

Anyway, what about the poor folks at the International Business Times, SB Nation, the LA Times, the Huffington Post (of course) and others who have dutifully created “What Time Does the Super Bowl Start” posts, solely for Google?

Well, they’re not totally screwed: They still show up on Google’s first results page (at least in my version), which is pretty good! And I just linked to them! And given that they probably had a junior employee make that post with minimal effort, it’s likely still an okay return on their investment.

In any case, it’s not like the very smart people who get paid a bunch of money to optimize traffic/dollars won’t be looking for new edges to gain elsewhere on Google, and other outlets like Facebook — lots of people have already done very well there.

It’s just a reminder that if you’re going to play this game, you have to accept that the rules are going to change. And you’ll have to change with them.

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