January 6, 2017
Are you a 50-something, coffee drinking, watch-the-morning-news kind of consumer? A Baby Boomer who enjoys freshly-squeezed OJ while perusing the newspaper?
Or, for us millennials, maybe you would rather do a quick check of The Skimm so you know what everyone else is talking about in the break room.
Contrary to what we may have been told, not everyone gets their news from online sources. Newspapers are still read and television is still watched.
In 2016, Americans caught the headlines on television, online, via the radio, and in the newspaper, though the mediums varied across generations. Even so, the Web continues to draw readers who prefer to get their news online rather than in print—59 percent versus 26 percent, according to Pew Research.
How we ingest information may be different, but one thing we can agree on: fake news is confusing. And it may even be hurtful to true news sources that are trying to deliver actual information.
At the same time, the polarization that is taking place among Americans is causing us to take our sides and stay firmly planted there. As the New York Times points out, the problem is that we are less inclined to listen to the other side, and then we stop believing what’s real.
Google’s Move to Block Fake News Results
While fake news continues to make news (ironic, isn’t it?), Google has made a move to block fake news results from showing up during searches. The search engine is changing the ‘In the news’ section, which is visible during desktop searches, to ‘Top stories,’ a card-style design featuring an image and a link to the source of the story.
While a desktop search used to look like this:
It now looks more like this:
The idea behind the switch is to weed out what isn’t real and replace it with more accurate material.
Google’s ‘In the News’ Fooled by Fakers
Toward the end of November, Google received criticism when top results for a popular election topic turned out to be fake. When users searched ‘final election count,’ the top result from the ‘In the news’ section was a WordPress blog from ‘70 News.’
Turns out, Trump had not actually won the popular vote by almost 700,000.
And contrary to the belief that Google had been tricked, it had not. As Business Insider points out, the fooled was actually the old module, which worked to pull those so-called ‘news stories’ from around the Web and not just the sites approved by its news team.
While social media giant Facebook fought against the rise of fake news throughout the later part of 2016, Google has faced its own challenges with results that appeared to have been editorially approved, but in reality, were not.
How Google Finds Information Like a Ninja
You might assume that when you go to search for something on the Internet, the results that come up all arrive from the same general place, meaning Google’s vast network of credible websites, blogs, and news outlets.
But Google’s search results and its news results are a bit different. Here’s what happens when we search:
1. We type it in: When the typical user types a search phrase into Google, whether that’s ‘snow storm’ or ‘election,’ the results that show up are not pulled from Google News, which requires approval and assesses for accuracy. Instead, “newsy” content is gathered from all across the Web, which means it may not be approved by Google as factual news.
2. Google looks it up: Google looks at 130 trillion individual pages for our answer and “crawls” (or follows) links from page to page, sorts by content and keeps track of it in an index.
3. We get the results: Google’s algorithms work to write formulas and programs in order to give us, the searchers, the best results. It pulls relevant documents from the index, ranks the results, and presents what it’s found to us in an eighth of a second.
And we thought Hollywood marriages were quick.
While Google does take steps to trap and get rid of spam through a combination of algorithms and manual review, fake news is sometimes more difficult to catch. In response to those no-name sites that masquerade as news, in November Google announced its plan to withhold digital ads from appearing on sites that seem to misrepresent or conceal information.
Google “News” Versus “Top Stories”
Google has yet to release the criteria for what constitutes inclusion in the “Top news” category. However, a recent perusing of Google’s News on its website via a desktop showed stories from outlets like the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Daily Mail, which may all be considered reputable news sources.
A recent mobile search of ‘top Christmas gifts 2016’ produced these ‘Top Stories’ results:
You can see that the results had a mix of news sites like USA Today and the Mirror, as well as an article by Elle magazine. While these sites may be well-known, none of the results would actually be considered ‘news’ in the sense that they provide the goings-on of the world in general.
Google’s decision in 2014 to list more than just the traditional news sites in its search results and its announcement that it would be “pulling from all over the Web” in order to “present as diverse a range of voices as possible” seems to have backfired.
How Content Writers Should Move Forward in Light of Google’s Change
Any content writer who is worth their caffeine wants to deliver content that is relevant, and yes, truthful. But how do we accomplish that in a world filled with fake news and spammy websites?
- Use direct links: Do not get into the habit of sharing a link to a link. Investigate for yourself and dig a little deeper so you know your source is credible.
- Never plagiarize: This may sound like an obvious one, but you would be surprised how much content there is that sounds word-for-word like another website. Readers don’t want regurgitated material—they want your words and ideas.
- Check your sources: Hubspot has a great blog post that talks about how to cite sources and stay away from content thievery on the Internet. Taking this step is one more way to create authoritative content in your writing.
Julia McCoy is a bestselling author of So You Think You Can Write, podcaster and an expert content marketer. She’s also the founder and CEO of Express Writers, a leading online content creation agency, with more than 60 content writers and strategists. Julia leads her team to serve hundreds of worldwide businesses with the highest-quality content for their online presence. Follow Julia's blog.