Posted by Clayton Johnson | June 2, 2017
Fake news has been at the front of the online news for a while now and with good reason!
Websites that spread false information are growing in sophistication, fooling everyone from casual readers to Google’s algorithm.
“Fake news,” which refers to false information that is posted online either for political purposes or to increase web traffic, was named the word of the year by Macquarie Dictionary because of how widespread its usage was in 2016.
During the American election and immediately afterward, fake news sites were at the forefront of political discussions on both sides of the spectrum.
The problem with fake news is that it is often very difficult to spot. It generally looks like a real story. Once a story starts making the rounds on social media, it’s very hard to set the story straight, so it also spreads far and wide quickly.
For example, fake news organisation websites developed by 20th Century Fox to promote an upcoming horror movie fooled thousands of people with anti-Trump stories, spreading like wildfire over social media.
Fake news sites are even becoming a problem for Google’s generally difficult to fool algorithms. Fake news stories have shown up in Google’s rich snippets, the information boxes that appear at the top for a common search question.
So why is this such a problem for Google, and what are they doing to combat these websites sites? Read on to find out.
How Are Fake News Sites Affecting Google?
The fake news problem gets even worse when fake news fools even Google’s newest algorithms.
That’s because not only will people using Google get fake news when they search. Those looking to check whether a fake news story they saw elsewhere is true by googling it will end up thinking the story has been confirmed.
While people may be skeptical of information from a particular website, people generally trust the Google snippets. We believe that whatever appears in the snippet box is the short, simple truth.
So, when Google gets fooled by fake news, it gets presented in the snippet without the context of the fake news site Google took it from. This makes it even easier for searchers to believe.
The same problem exists in Google’s ‘In The News’ section, where after the election the top story stated Trump won the electoral college and the popular vote by a massive margin.
This is because while some Google sites, such as Google News, are vetted for accuracy, Google snippets and ‘In The News’ are not. Instead, they rely on an algorithm which draws from sources all across the web.
Normally, this algorithm is great at sniffing out spam, but as fake news sites become more sophisticated, Google is struggling to keep up.
Websites that are SEO optimized, hitting Google’s main ranking features such as fast loading, have a good chance of showing up in the snippet or in the news carousel.
People spreading fake news are starting to take notice of this. They are working on their SEO and this means fake news sometimes slips through the cracks.
What is Google Doing About Fake News Sites?
Clearly, as the internet’s main gateway to information, fake news on Google’s services is a big problem.
So what is Google doing to stop these sites from hijacking their services?
Google is taking some important steps to combat fake news. Here’s what they have done so far.
Fact Check Tagging
Google has created a special fact-checking tool to help root out fake news. Basically, articles are tagged with facts when you open the expanded story box, flagging to you that a story may contain false information.
The tool uses reliable fact checking sources such as the schema.org ClaimReview markup and other commonly recognized fact checking sources.
This way, users can get an instant flag that maybe they need to double check what they’re reading. The tool will also link users to these fact checking sites so that they can see whether a story is valid and get a full explanation why or why not.
Restricting Ad Sources
Google has also updated its advertising rules to help weed out fake news.
While they have not provided many specific details, Google has promised to make sure to restrict advertising on sources that don’t provide details about the publisher, their content, and the website’s primary purpose.
This means that there will be less incentive for fake news sites to publish content. If they can’t earn AdSense revenue from their viral fake news stories, they won’t have any real reason to publish them.
This means that Google is undergoing a massive analysis and purge of untrustworthy sources in its network. They have already taken action against 340 sites that violated their policies, and vow to continue to be vigilant in the future at blocking these websites.
What More Might Google Do?
These next steps aren’t set in stone, but it is possible that if Google wants to seriously combat fake news, they will make some major changes.
Changing Ranking Signals
Google may consider updating its ranking algorithm to help deal with the fake news problem.
The algorithm relies pretty heavily on the popularity of a link as an indicator of its credibility. Unfortunately, in the age of fake news, this is not necessarily accurate, especially when fake news is tailored to be shareable and popular.
Based on how serious Google is about combatting fake news and upholding their credibility, they may make some ranking signal changes to this effect in the next algorithm update.
Improving Feedback Features
Google could rely more heavily on user feedback to report fake news. At the moment, Google allows users to provide feedback in the snippets. It is possible that they could add more avenues for user feedback to help them root out fake news.
Fake news sites aren’t going away anytime soon. Instead, Google will have to combat them as they grow more and more sophisticated in their attempts to beat Google’s algorithm.
This could have major effects on Google’s ranking systems and on your SEO practices. Only time will tell what Google will decide to do to keep these types of sites in check.
The best thing you can do for your SEO? Keep an eye on Google’s ever-changing algorithm and keep putting out great content, not fake news!
Clayton Johnson is the CMO of The HOTH SEO company. He has over 8+ years experience in the SEO industry and has spoken at events like SEJ Summit. The HOTH has been featured in Inc 5000, Forbes, SMX, Pubcon, Content Marketing World, Affiliate Summit, Brighton and more.