What SEO can learn from Google's new report outlining the tactics they are taking to fight disinformation.
What do fake news, political propaganda, conspiracy theories and extremist content have in common?
Answer: They have all made use of Google products to promote their message in recent years.
Whether it's featured on search, YouTube or display advertising networks, user trust has been dented by this unintentional promotion of this type of misinformation. In response, Google has launched a whitepaper on How Google Fights Disinformation in 2019, which gives an overview of how Google is fighting content of this nature.
This whitepaper outlines the tactics that Google has implemented to crack down on disinformation, which, in turn, gives us an insight into how Google evaluates content quality in general. After reading the report, I've summarised the key findings that everyone responsible for SEO and Content can use to their advantage.
Google is constantly updating its algorithms based on user testing
“Algorithms are geared towards ensuring the usefulness of our services, as measured by user testing…” p.4
“In 2017 alone, Google conducted more than 200,000 experiments that resulted in about 2,400 changes to Search” p.9
Google’s use of user data and testing is not new. What the statements above suggest is that search is evolving on a daily basis. The SEO community tends to get hung up on the major algorithm updates Google makes a handful of times a year.
Google uses a combination of quantitative data, directly from Chrome and Google search, and quantitative data via feedback from its Search Quality Evaluators to constantly tweak its algorithms.
Trust is a highly significant factor in news search
“The Trust Project has developed eight indicators of trust publishers can use to better convey why their content should be seen as credible…” p.6
OK, no surprise here that trust should play an important role in assessing content quality. What is interesting is Google’s reference to the Trust Project of which Google is an original founder.
The Trust Project’s eight indicators of trust are:
- Best Practices: What are the news outlet’s standards? Who funds it? What is the outlet’s mission? Plus commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards.
- Author/Reporter Expertise: Who made this? Details about the journalist, including their expertise and other stories they have worked on.
- Type of Work: What is this? Labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored) content from news reports.
- Citations and References: What’s the source? For investigative or in-depth stories, access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.
- Methods: How was it built? Also for in-depth stories, information about why reporters chose to pursue a story and how they went about the process.
- Locally Sourced? Was the reporting done on the scene, with deep knowledge about the local situation or community? Lets you know when the story has local origin or expertise.
- Diverse Voices: What are the newsroom’s efforts and commitments to bringing in diverse perspectives? Readers noticed when certain voices, ethnicities, or political persuasions were missing.
- Actionable Feedback: Can we participate? A newsroom’s efforts to engage the public’s help in setting coverage priorities, contributing to the reporting process, ensuring accuracy and other areas. Readers want to participate and provide feedback that might alter or expand a story.
It’s not a great leap of imagination to think Google may be using similar criteria within its ranking algorithms. If you are publishing news content, you need to give serious consideration to how you demonstrate these factors for your brand and content.
Google algorithms do not subjectively judge the accuracy of content
“The systems do not make subjective determinations about the truthfulness of webpages, but rather focus on measurable signals that correlate with how users and other websites value the expertise…” p.11
“Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content…” p.12
It may be surprising to learn that Google has no way of directly judging the accuracy of your content. Signals such as links, recency, topical authority and expertise are the decisive factors here.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t focus on the accuracy of your page content, but it’s essential that you understand how Google measures the Expertise, Authority and Trust of your web content.
Authority is topic focused
““For instance, a national news outlet’s articles might be deemed authoritative in response to searches related to current events. But less reliable for searches related to gardening.” p.12
Individual web pages do not sit in isolation when judged by Google. You need to build authority on a topic by producing a wide range of content focused on a particular subject.
Structuring your site so that related content sits together in topic hubs and linking related pages to one another can help strengthen your topical authority.
Links are still a major contributing factor in determining authority
“…the best known of these is PageRank, which uses links on the web to understand authoritativeness.” p.12
Links are still the number one user-based trust and authority signal for Google. This doesn’t mean that you should be looking for ways to manipulate backlinks to your website, however, it does mean that any SEO strategy that doesn’t consider how you can naturally earn links is fundamentally flawed.
Your Money or Your Life content extended to include pages important to an ‘informed citizenry’
“…informed citizenry. This last category can compromise anything from information about local, state, or national government processes or policies, news about important topics in a given country, or disaster response services.” p.13
Google holds some web content to higher standards in terms of quality and accuracy than others. It dubs this ‘Your Money or Your Life' content.
As the name suggests, this applies to any site delivering medical, health or financial content. However, the definition is much broader and includes topics as diverse as parenting, buying a home and legal advice.
As the above demonstrates, we can now extend that to include content around politics, statehood or news around significant natural events and disasters.