We’ve read through the whole of Google’s recent white paper on fighting disinformation online and simplified it down into the main key points for you – so that you can stay one step ahead of your competitors!
Anyone who watches the news will know that disinformation is one of the key issues affecting the online world, from Google to social media giants like Facebook. The rise of ‘fake news’ has led to serious issues and of course, Google wants to show that it is getting out in front of these issues!
Why’s this important to webmasters and SEO professionals?
Well, when Google tells us what it is doing or thinking on a given subject, they are giving us a direct insight into how they may be formulating current or future algorithm updates. Which of course then, in turn, affect the ranking of pages on their SERPs.
We only have to think of E.A.T as a perfect example of this (which they discuss in this white paper).
When they released new search quality evaluator guidelines in 2016 it was then followed in the next 2 years with updates that correlated with everything they had laid out in these guidelines!
So without further ado let’s get started on what exactly this White paper is about.
What is Google doing to combat disinformation?
Throughout everything they discussed in this white paper, there were 3 key components in their fight:
- Looking for quality (this means looking at E.A.T)
- Looking for the context where possible (this also means looking at E.A.T)
- Seeking out malicious actors – this means creating ways to find those that are propagating disinformation.
Of course, we’ll go into more detail as to what each of these points means, but the key point here is that these are their three main components needed in order to combat this issue!
How are they combatting disinformation in online journalism?
Google has begun working with outside sources to combat against ‘fake news’ and the propagation of fake news sites that spread disinformation.
One key group, they now work with; thetrustproject.org have developed 8 indicators that each journalistic site should be able to answer.
These were the indicators:
- 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.
Any journalistic site that chooses to be part of the Trust project
can then carry the logo on their webpage!
When you go on their webpage you can also see a number of the highly reputable media outlets that already work with them.
Why are these indicators important?
By media sites showing off these 8 indicators and how they are fulfilling them, they are showing to Google that they are trustworthy and accountable in what they post.
Any fake news media outlet would not be able to divulge the information needed in order to fulfil these indicators.
This is of course then a positive step in combatting disinformation and highlighting necessary journalistic standards
It does not directly combat itself against Fake news media outlets ability to spread their disinformation.
As the head of the Trust project said in an article on The Atlantic, one of the main issues now is that the line between trusted journalism and companies with little principles have come to a head, and her Trust Project is just one way of trying to draw a line between the two!
How is Google tackling disinformation on the news and search platform?
As Google stated the way they attempt to circumvent malicious actors being able to reach the top of Google is in a three-prong approach;
- Looking at quality; this, of course, means every single ranking algorithm update which has sought to focus on enabling quality, trustworthy, reliable content to get to the top of the SERPs and hindering webmasters from using ‘spam’ or unnatural techniques to game their way to the top!
- ‘Counteracting malicious actors’; this means looking out for obvious signs of webmasters attempting to deceive Google. This could be if they are lying about their location; one example given by Google was if a reporter claimed to be reporting from Bordeaux France. Yet their account activity indicates they’re in New Jersey! This would, therefore, indicate malicious behaviour going on e.g. attempting to deceive the user.
- Giving users more context, for example;
– the Knowledge graph which shows the user ‘high-level facts’ – meaning facts that have been verified by sources with a lot of E.A.T! Using labelling and or snippets to indicate articles that are fact-checking a given subject.
– using a full coverage function on Google news in order to give a wide array of journalistic reporting on a given story.
– Using a more transparent method for ads in elections, meaning that additional verification is now required in order to post a political AD on Google during election times, this gives greater clarity on who is funding what.
Ranking in Google news and search is undertaken with the same principles
- They use algorithms to determine the ranking of content, no individuals make determinations.
- The algorithm is geared towards the ‘usefulness’ of the results it shows! which is measured in the first place by user testing, it is not done so by any ideological standpoint.
- The systems do not make judgements about truthfulness, but rather looking at contextual signals such as the EAT.
being a news platform the FRESHNESS of the content is also a very relevant ranking factor unlike in google search
Google news is also more restrictive in its content policy than Google search. Google news aim is to show a range of JOURNALISTIC accounts of a subject.
Google search is designed to show a range of ideas.
Does Google personalise what it shows each user?
Google search: a user’s inferred interests DO NOT have a big effect on what the user is shown. What WILL have an effect on a user’s search results are:
- users location
- the language used in search
- top stories carousel is NEVER personalised
Google news: offer 3 ways of viewing info;
- headlines and top stories
- for you (personalised)
- full coverage; not personalised at all!
They never personalise content based on ideological standpoints. And as we can see in this article, personalisation was slowly faded out by Google (apart from on the points made above) as it was seen to offer little benefit to the user.
Using E.A.T to find quality in Google’s ranking algorithm
As you know we’ve already discussed EAT in a previous blog post (you can read an in-depth analysis of how EAT works there) as it was seen to have been a major ranking signal since 2017, however, this White paper just confirmed everything we thought as SEO professionals.
EAT is Google’s way of fighting disinformation by putting the onus on quality of information – because Google cannot rub its magic globe and figure out what is the truth and not.
It must look at the contextual signals of:
Our first indications of this were in the search quality evaluators guidelines where we saw how EAT was becoming an important factor for the evaluators to take into consideration. This is key when we consider that these evaluators partake in over 200,000 experiments which in time have led to over 2400 updates to googles algorithm.
So whilst the quality search evaluators don’t make the decisions for each individual page and don’t directly create the algorithm updates- their findings are then inputted in so that Googles algorithm can learn from them!
You can check out the search quality guidelines, and they will act as a blueprint for how google rates sites – from high quality to low quality!
They also test the updates once rolled out, and compare with what it was like previous to the update to see which they prefer!
The YMYL update of 2018
Yet again we have already discussed this update in our EAT blog and in our Google algorithm updates guide. But it is pertinent to White paper as it shows the type of sites affected by the enhanced importance of EAT.
Your money your life sites were targeted for having a DIRECT EFFECT on the health, wellbeing and financial wellbeing of its users, it is therefore of utmost importance that the information Google puts out is trustworthy authoritative and written by experts!
Therefore where a site is deemed to fall into the YMYL category heavier weighting will be put on EAT as a ranking factor compared to other sites.
This means that even if a YMYL site has a mixed review on the internet – it will be viewed as low quality by Googles algorithm.
Google also recognised the need to keep an eye on other areas which are widely open to disinformation – such as breaking news stories – where the crazier the story or headline – the more likely to get a click – also known as ‘clickbait’. To combat this Google favours authority’ as a ranking factor over the freshness of content or exact word matches (as this can be a way to game the system).
The SEO game
Google also calls out manipulative attempts to climb the rankings and how they are now fighting against this, they specifically mention pretty much the birth of SEO which was when page rank was released back in 1999!
Of course over the years SEO professionals then found ways to game Google’s system as we discussed at length in our algorithm blog.
A few examples of course were:
Content farming – sites producing thousands upon thousands of poorly written, 500-word articles in order to attract ad revenue!
Spammy link building techniques – buying links from 100’s of awful sites using the same keyword as the anchor text in order to help rank for that word
Using affiliate sites to push a bunch of traffic to your site
Using exact match domains in order to rank straight away for a given search query!
Although just to name a few of the issues, over the years these are techniques that Google has aimed to stamp out.
(which is why any decent SEO professional now focuses on natural techniques – such as improving on-site SEO and natural, authoritative link building)
Their issue with these manipulative tactics is that the webmaster may not be providing the most relevant or useful answer to the search query, and therefore are reducing the EAT of Googles search engine itself!
Note that Google mentions the word ‘spam’ a lot here!
This is because the sites they now manually go after are sites that have been flagged up by users or clearly go against their user guidelines!
This is not to be confused with what a lot of SEO professionals now say which is that any sort of link building is now deemed as spam by Google.
That’s utter crap.
If you’re purchasing relevant, authoritative links and have a professional, content-filled site then you WILL NOT have an issue with Google, in fact, that‘s only going to be helping your EAT!
So what can we do with this information?
Well as SEO professionals, we can do a number of things to help improve a site’s rankings when it comes to EAT.
Many clients have seen improvements with link auditing and disavowing or manually removing less trustworthy sites that are pointing to their site.
- Googles John Mueller has confirmed that if a site has a lot of unnatural links pointing to it that Google many then take a less than favourable view to ALL the links on that site. Making a link audit really worth your time if you want to ensure you’re not being held back from the top of Google!
- One predominant way of showing off a site’s EAT is by having high authority and relevant links to your content. As we have discussed a million times, these are votes of confidence! These links are a great way of Googles algorithm working out what is reliable, useful content and what isn’t. We’ve seen amazing results getting high authority/ relevant links to their content! And as we mentioned the higher DA the site, the more likely that site is to pass on link juice!
Read our blogpost dedicated to EAT and you’ll find a plethora of information on how to improve your sites EAT 🙂
A key thing to remember is that the importance of EAT as a ranking factor varies dependant on the sites industry, sites in the health, wellness, financial, legal, financial industries will all have EAT as a more influential part of their ranking signals.
Showing off expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness are the foundations of any good website and you’re future-proofing your site from any further Google algorithm updates if you try to adhere to this! You’re also giving yourself an advantage potentially over your competitor for that top spot on Google.
If you’re interested in discussing link building or having us complete a link audit of our site, click on the links and you can see what we offer and our prices or send us a message by live chat or email!