Problematic content has plagued Google for over a year now, surfacing at the top of search results and spawning several searing articles accusing Google of favoring fake news. Problematic content, or malicious and incorrect information, surfaced in search suggestions (also known as autocomplete), featured snippets (also known as quick answers), and on the first page of search results. To make matters worse, when problematic content ranks as the featured snippet, all voice activated devices driven by Google use that content to answer questions.
In an effort to limit problematic content on these three highly visible search spaces, Google created a team internally called “Project Owl.” The aim of Google’s Project Owl is to combat problematic content and fake news while improving search results to favor quality, authoritative content. Google’s plan of attack comes in the form of new feedback forms for search suggestions, featured snippets, and an updated algorithm that emphasizes authoritative content.
/ Project Owl’s Three-Pronged Approach
Project Owl focused on three main areas of the search results page to improve the overall quality of search results.
Google released a limited test last February that let searchers report problematic suggested searches. That “report inappropriate predictions” feature is now being released worldwide. Searchers can choose if the prediction is hateful, sexually explicit, violent, or can choose “other.” Searchers can also leave comments about the predictions.
Google already had a feedback button for featured snippets, but Project Owl has updated the feedback function to offer more options. Searchers can still mark featured snippets as helpful, has something missing, is wrong, or not useful. However, searchers can now also mark featured snippets as hateful, racist, or offensive; vulgar or sexually explicit; harmful, dangerous or violent; misleading or inaccurate.
Perhaps most importantly, Google updated the algorithm to place more emphasis on authoritative content, specifically for long-tail and obscure searches. Google remains vague on what constitutes authoritative content; however, based on past studies and releases from Google, authoritative content likely has robust backlink portfolios and is relevant to the unique query. Google also updated the instructions for their search quality raters, instructing them to flag content that’s upsetting or offensive.
Google will be gathering information from the suggested search and featured snippet feedback forms and using the information to update the algorithm on an ongoing basis, rather than making manual updates to each reported search result. However, if a specific query receives a large volume of complaints, Google will manually update the search result.
/ The Main Takeaway
Google search rankings will feature more relevant and authoritative content, deprioritize fake news, and allow more user feedback than ever before.
/ What It Means for Marketers
Relevant, authoritative content with a robust backlink portfolio from related sites will be priorities in search for short- and long-tail searches. Google’s main goal is to provide accurate search results for queries. Sites that depend on sensational fake news or other black hat tactics will have a harder time ranking on page 1 as Google continues to update the algorithm to prioritize authoritative content on a query-by-query basis.
Marketers should actively use the Google feedback when appropriate to make the search space as accurate as possible. Google will rely on information from feedback forms to improve their algorithm for the foreseeable future. Marketers should provide feedback for inaccurate or offensive searches to help improve the search space for the public.