Fake news has been high on the agenda at Google for the last several months following criticism of the search engine (and Facebook) in the immediate aftermath of the US elections last year. In its annual update of the Google Quality Rater’s Guidelines, it’s no surprise to see that fake news has played a central role.
Of the dozens of changes made this time round, one of the biggest shifts is the explicit classification of fake news sites as being of a low quality. While fake news was barely a blip on the radar this time last year, the furore caused by the circumstances of the election and its build up mean it’s a very hot topic at the moment. The revised Guidelines commemorate the significance of this shift with very specific new additions to the ‘low quality’ designations:
- Inaccurate or misleading information presented as fact is also a reason for Low or even Lowest quality ratings.
- Including inaccurate information, such as making things up, stretching the truth, or creating a false sense of doubt about well-established facts.
- Failing to cite sources, or making up sources where none exist.
Fake news is also referenced in updates made to the deceptive pages section with the search engine adding into the new Guidelines:
- A webpage or website that impersonates a different site (e.g., copied logo or branding of an unaffiliated site, URL that mimics another site’s name, etc.).
- A webpage or website looks like a news source or information page, but in fact has articles with factually inaccurate information to manipulate users in order to benefit a person, business, government, or other organization politically, monetarily, or otherwise.
- A non-satirical webpage or website presents unsubstantiated conspiracy theories or hoaxes as if the information were factual.
Interestingly, while changes prompted by fake news are wide ranging throughout the updated Quality Rater’s Guidelines, Google ranking engineer Paul Haahr told The SEM Post that in reality, fake news stories affect just 0.1% of traffic.
While this seems like a very small percentage of search users affected, Google also noted that it had seen an increase in the number of fake news sites appearing, suggesting the problem is far from dealt with and leading to the need to clearly identify fake news sites in the low quality sites section of its quality rating system.
Low quality updates
In addition to explicitly adding fake news to the low quality section, Google also made a number of other updates to better define what a low quality site might look like. With these updates, the search engine has attempted to encapsulate sites that might mislead or offend searchers, with additions for hate sites, highly inaccurate information and other offensive content.
Under sites that lack expertise, authority or trustworthiness, Google has added scientific or medical sites that mislead searchers or present unsound medical advice. Specifically, the new Guidelines now state
“…topics such as medical advice, legal advice, financial advice, etc. should come from authoritative sources in those fields, must be factually accurate, and must represent scientific/medical consensus within those fields where such consensus exists.”
Lowest quality changes
The search engine has also added new definitions for what it now considers to be the lowest quality of pages:
“Webpages created with the sole purpose of promoting hate or violence against a group of people based on criteria including (but not limited to) race or ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality or citizenship, disability, age, sexual orientation, or veteran status should also be rated Lowest .”
In addition, the following types of content have also been singled out:
- Pages or websites which are untrustworthy, present unreliable information, or not accurate or are misleading
- Factually incorrect content which may cause harm to the reader (for example inaccurate legal or medical information)
- Pages or sites with no original content
- Pages or websites promoting hate or violence (such as racism or sexism)
Clickbait is something that has occupied a number of Facebook changes over the last 12 months, with the social network making changes to its News Feed last summer to crack down on clickbait content. Google has also had clickbait on its mind it seems, with a number of changes making it into the 2017 Guidelines as part of efforts to tackle the issue.
Under its definition of low quality main content, the search engine has now added titles to its definition of distracting or misleading content, adverts or supplementary information. The advice now acknowledges that, “Misleading titles can result in a very poor user experience when users click a link only to find that the page does not match their expectations.”
You can read the full Google Guidelines here: https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//insidesearch/howsearchworks/assets/searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf