Google Uses Ranking Algorithms to Combat Misinformation
I think it’s safe to say that 2018 was a turbulent year with reports of fake news, false claims and misinformation running rampant across the county.
Misinformation, a global issue, became such an immense problem and brought light to so many new challenges, Dictionary.com named misinformation the word of the year.
With the internet being the main conduit for spreading information, including misinformation, Google has taken some major steps to help combat this ever growing situation.
How Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Fits into the Post Truth Era
Most people have a basic understanding of search engine optimization (SEO). While SEO is quite complex, in the simplest terms it is defined as the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. This list, called a search engine ranking page is widely known as a SERP.
How do they plan to do this? One way is with their page ranking algorithm.
Google is Clearly Fighting the War on Fake News, Spammy Content and Click Bait
Digital marketers and content creators have been trying to wrap their heads around and keep up with Google algorithms for decades. As complicated as the technology behind Google’s algorithms may be, Google’s corporate mission is simple. They promise to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Ever since its beginnings, Google has focused on developing proprietary algorithms that focus on the user. The algorithms are crafted to deliver useful and relevant information to users while empowering website owners to publish information and to be discovered online.
To do this, Google contracts over 10,000 search quality raters worldwide to evaluate websites based on the information and the experience they had while visiting the website. The feedback from evaluators is used to help drive decisions on how the algorithms can be improved.
To help further their mission, for the first time in 2015 Google released its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG) to the public. The SQEG helps humans evaluators understand how to rate the quality of the websites they are reviewing.
In July of 2018, Google updated its SQRG, and once again released it to the public. Website developers and content creators will find golden nuggets of actionable insights to help raise SERP rankings on every page of this document.
One thing to notice in this last update is the emphasis on quality content and the importance placed on the reputation of the people who are creating it.
Greater Emphasis on E-A-T for Y-M-Y-L Pages for SEO
To summarize the 164-page document, Google is placing a greater emphasis on the Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust (E-A-T ) on the people who are creating web content, especially for Your Money or Your Life pages (Y-M-Y-L).
Google urges evaluators to use their judgment when ranking Y-M-Y-L pages and suggests that these pages are held to the highest standards possible.
Keep in mind, a Google evaluator will never affect an individual website’s page rank. However, their evaluations will be used to improve algorithms to help keep low-quality Y-M-Y-L pages that could potentially negatively impact users’ happiness, health, financial stability, or safety from appearing at the top of a SERP.
How Does E.A.T. Effect Web Content Writers
Google’s search quality guide tells evaluators to not only find out who is responsible for the website but to also find out who is responsible for creating the content.
Evaluators are asked to dive deep into their online research to evaluate the reputation of the website or creator of the main content.
They are asked to take into account ‘bad actors’ who may have read the guidelines and maliciously created false information, reviews and testimonials to mislead users and trick algorithms into giving their web pages higher rankings.
This leads us back to E-A-T, the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of a website and its creator. The guidelines urge evaluators to keep in mind who is writing the content.
Almost immediately following the update of the 2018 guidelines, Google released one of its most extensive updates in years dubbed the ‘Medic’ algorithm update. This update targeted the E-A-T on Y-M-Y-L pages that offered medical advice. It was one of the largest changes to the Google algorithm in decades. Websites that provided medical, diet and nutrition advice without the presence of a contributor with the proper expertise took a huge hit in SERP rankings.
Establishing Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness
In order to be ranked as a high-quality page and/or website, the creators have to demonstrate that they have enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic. This doesn’t mean that everyone that writes web content or blogs has to have a string of letters after their names. Experts are everywhere. There are fashion experts, DIY experts and even gossip experts.
The standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page. Google and most folks do recognize that there are some people with life experience and everyday expertise that can create useful content.
Web users do need to trust the information they find online. They need to believe the information they find is reputable, credible and non-manipulative. Unfortunately, there have been some ‘bad actors’ creating content with the purpose of misleading people.
Google Launches a Mammoth Undertaking to Help Combat Disinformation
Expertise, authoritativeness and trust. These ‘buzz’ words have been tossed around the last few years by so many people they might have begun to lose their effectiveness.
Remember our word of the year, misinformation? Dictionary.com defines misinformation verse disinformation.
Misinformation is false or inaccurate information.
Disinformation is “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”
So, the difference between misinformation and disinformation comes down to intent.
When people share information they believe to be true, they are engaging in spreading misinformation.
When people craft and disseminate information for the intent to mislead others, they are spreading disinformation.
Google recently released a white paper explaining its stance on disinformation, and their plans to fight it as we move deeper into a ‘post-truth’ era.
The motivations that propel one to create and circulate disinformation can be both financial, to turn a profit and political, to motivate others to foster specific viewpoints and exert influence over a population.
Once disinformation is created, good-hearted individuals may help spread the word and further, without realizing the goals of the content originators may not be above board.
Google states they have taken on the responsibility to help curb the efforts of those who aim to propagate false information on their platforms.
This will not an easy task with complexities crossing into social, legal and civil lanes.
3 Strategies Google is Using to Tackle Disinformation
Their approach to tackling disinformation will be based around a framework of three strategies:
1. Make Quality Count:
My favorite! Make quality count. This means creating and delivering quality information and trustworthy commercial messages.
2. Counteract Malicious Actors:
Algorithms will never be able to make determinations on if a piece of content is true or false, and if the content was created with malice intent. There are, however, clear signals that can detect if a page or website was created with the intention to manipulate or deceive users.
In addition, many content creators have tried to deceive ranking systems to get more visibility, by pushing out loads of disinformation otherwise, know as SPAM.
SPAM content, click bate or whatever you want to call it is created for the sole purpose of tricking the SERP, with little regard for the user.
Google has been working on what seems to be a never-ending battle to reduce ‘spammy’ behaviors at scale.
3. Give Users More Context
My second favorite! Give users more access to correct and contextual content. Make it easy for users to find appropriate information with different perspectives so they can form their own opinions.
Make it easier for users to fact-check information, by including references, and use transparency in advertising so users understand why they’re presented with a specific ad and how to change their preferences so as to alter the personalization of the ads they are shown, or to opt out of personalized ads altogether.
A Simple Way You Can Help Combat a Serious Issue
Creators of disinformation will never stop trying to find new ways to deceive users. It’s the age-old conflict of good versus evil. While we can’t stop it, we can fight it.
True SEO isn’t only about algorithms. It’s about using a holistic approach to showcasing integrity and good business practices. It does take time to establish these online credentials. Efforts today may not produce results tomorrow, but they will over time.
Creating web content with the following in mind will not only help improve your business, but it will also help users find the trustworthy information they are searching for.
5 Takeaways to Help Improve Your Own SEO
As you work on your own web presence, be sure to:
1. Showcase your E-A-T. Include an About page filled with accolades, previous experience, and detailed success stories to demonstrate why you and/or your company is an expert and what was the path you took to get there.
2. Read your customer reviews and social media comments. Find out what, if any, issues they may be experiencing. Address those issues. Immediately. Bad reviews can kill a business.
Keep in mind that there are tons of fake reviews, spam reviews and even false reviews being made by competitors. If you find yourself in this situation, you can flag the review with Google. If the review violates their policies they will remove it.
3. Evaluate your products and services. Taking this last one a bit further, use your customer insights to improve your products or services. If something is amiss, change it. You will be rewarded with repeat customers (traffic), positive reviews and social chatter- all of which will help with your page rankings.
4. Write more content. We just established that quality content is one of the top three ranking factors in SEO. Develop a keyword rich content strategy with your users or customers in mind. Write to your audience. They are coming to you for help answering a question, to find information or looking to understand a topic and may not always understand industry jargon.
5. Don’t forget the tech. While we all like to read and write engaging, entertaining and succulent copy, we can’t forget the basics of SEO. Long content (1000+ words or more) will rank better because it leaves enough room to clearly cover a topic. Pages must have good UI/UX design. It should be free from spelling and grammatical issues. It should include links to reputable references and original sources. Keywords should be carefully and strategically chosen, and of course, everything should work well on mobile.
As we move into 2019, we can keep in mind that our eyes should be open for misinformation. We can also offer some help to combat disinformation by creating a little more credible content to help drown out the noise.