Have you ever posted a viral meme or article link on social media, only to find out you were guilty of spreading false info?
It’s a pretty terrible feeling to discover you’ve shared an incorrect or inaccurate article, honestly. Considering that 56% of Americans rely on major social media networks as a source of news, it’s really surprising that mass dissemination of misinformation or false news reports doesn’t occur more often.
Misinformation can do some serious damage, though. According to journalist Hal Hodson of NewScientist, “anti-vaccination websites make the front page of Google, and fact-free "news" stories spread like wildfire.” The internet has given everyone a voice, and social media has made every with an internet connection both a content creator and publisher. Frankly, the last decade’s phenomenon of mass user-generated content has both incredibly positive and negative effects.
The Risks of False or Inaccurate Web Content
False information can misinform, but it can also be downright dangerous. While it’s never wise to rely on anyone other than licensed professionals for advice, consider the risks of inaccurate health information, tax or even legal information in search results or on social media. The possibilities that individuals could harm themselves or others as a result of bad information opens a whole slew of legal and ethical debates.
Google recently decided to take some serious action against false info, by introducing an all-new “truth engine” in the last month. Website ranking is now affected by the accuracy of information it publishes. While this new feature is definitely in it’s early stages, it’s safe to say we could all become a lot less reliant on Snopes, Politifact, and FactCheck.org in the near future.
Introducing Google’s New Knowledge-Based Trust Score
Google currently relies on hundreds of factors to determine the authority and trustworthiness of a website. While no one knows precisely what criteria are used to create search rankings and their relative weight, Searchmetrics 2014 study postulated that the following factors are ranked in the top 10 criteria by Google’s algorithm:
Click-through rate from search results
- Relevant terms
- Google +1s
- Facebook Shares
- Facebook Comments
- Pinterest Pins
- Authority of backlinks
- Facebook Likes
- Volume of backlinks
- Relevant terms (key phrases)
Now, according to the media, you can add total number of incorrect facts as a negative ranking factor. The more wrong things each page contains, the lower your ranking will be in search results for relevant queries.Google’s team of researchers reports that “A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy.” Your website won’t be decimated for occasional errors, but routine attention to accuracy is now a component in building site authority.
To be clear, the new trust-based knowledge score isn’t a new algorithm. It’s an update to the algorithm, which is being added as another factor. Your site should be accurate, up-to-date, earn social media shares, and background links. Essentially, accuracy is just another aspect of quality content that Google is now actively able to verify with this latest update.
How Does Google Know What’s Right and Wrong?
Each fact you publish to your website will be verified against Google’s knowledge vault, which is basically a ton of knowledge pulled from the internet (2.8 billion facts from the entire web). Facts are determined to be true or false essentially by majority vote, or more accurately a “novel multi-layer probabilistic model,” which weighs a number of factors to determine “truthiness.” Also, let me warn you right now. If you’re not into the technical aspects of search algorithms, feel free to skip this section and zoom ahead to learn what this latest development means for your business.
The results of Google engineer’s preliminary tests on the accuracy of their knowledge-based trust algorithm? It really works. The algorithm “reliably” categorized the accuracy of the engineer’s test sample of 119 million web pages, which were then manually verified. If you’re not sure whether a statistic you’re about to publish to your business blog is right or wrong, it’s going to pay to fact check. Google’s algorithm is now officially super sharp.
What This Means for Your SEO Strategy?
It doesn’t take more than a handful of Google searches to see that the “truth engine” is currently far from perfect. You will still encounter inaccurate results around any number of topics on the front page of search engine results pages (SERPs). However, things are getting better. This new development meets a clear need from consumers for veracity in web content. Journalists, marketers, and consumers have all expressed hope that this resource continues to be grown and improved by Google’s team of engineers.
While few ethical marketers have much to worry about, this new development does compound the importance of fact-checking for content marketers. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to verify the statistics, quotations and data you use on the pages of your website. (Note: the IMA team relies heavily on Factbrowser, which is like a search engine for marketing, advertising, and consumer data). Use best practices, train your editors to check facts aggressively, and link to the original source whenever possible.
And honestly? Your website probably won’t drastically drop in rankings because of a mis-cited statistic from an article you published back in 2008. However, it is wise to keep an eye out for accuracy and facts in any content audits you perform in the months to come. Fast-changing industries have more motivation than ever before to make sure their evergreen content is updated regularly.
Your Plan for Google Truth-Friendly Action
In short? Make sure you’re treating your content assets like living assets. In light of Google’s new focus on truth and accuracy in content, SEO strategists and marketers should:
- Perform regularly-scheduled content audits
- Routinely update and refresh high-performing or evergreen content assets
- Unpublish wholly outdated or inaccurate content assets until they can be reworked
- Integrate fact-checking and trusted resources for content marketing teams
Are you changing your approach to content audits and SEO at all in light of Google’s new knowledge-based trust score? Share your thoughts in the comments!