Fake News and SEO: Winning the Battle with Content

By Denise Konkol on May 25, 2017

It seems that it was during the 2016 election that now-President Donald Trump kept referring to the “fake news” whenever it wasn’t in his favor, and at least initially, most people rolled their eyes. However, those salad days were short-lived and truthfully, many in the SEO community were already requesting facts rather than backlinks be the driving force in organic rankings a year before that.

The argument was that if content is indeed king, organic search results should primarily focus on factual evidence in a page’s content to determine rankings. This wasn’t just a good idea; in fact, Google filed a patent in 2008 on how it would extract facts from structured and semi-structured pages, indicating that it’s been collecting a vast library of factual evidence and can reference it as needed.

In October of 2016, Google then introduced a way for sites to place a schema markup on articles so a “Fact Check” tag would appear in Google News. The information in these articles indicated fact-checking done by news and other vetting organizations and had a limited release to certain countries and through Google News. The rollout to all of Google search happened later in April 2017.

Fake news called out with Google fact checkGoogle is leaning on the efforts of sites like Snopes PolitiFact to do the checking, and you’ll see their input when searching for a story that has likely caused some scrutiny for its validity. The results of a search on stories that may or may not be true are found topside of a Google search featuring the fact check label. For example, we selected a favorite rumor, which was bound to be flagged with the new label, shown right.

At its height – and no doubt, we may still be in its height – fake news sites reaped big money, generated by advertising placed on sites built in large part in Macedonia. One teen told OverTheTopSEO that he made more than $10,000 a month off of AdSense.

That’s been good news for them, but SEO professionals fear the affect on users, particularly on Facebook. During the election, some posts containing fake news on Hillary Clinton led to more than 500,000 shares, and in general, 23 percent of Facebook users have admitted to sharing fake news posts on the social media site.

The response from Facebook has been to forewarn audiences by labeling posts flagged by readers and organizations. It’s also changing ad policies, and Google for its part is banning fake news sites from using AdSense. Whatever negative impact there will be on Facebook’s perception of data accuracy and ad spending there will be, it’s likely not to be lasting.

Where industry experts see a positive is in paid search. SEM inherently can filter out sites that have lower quality content in the quest for more fact-based, quality sites. Additionally, Google’s challenge is well within their own hands to fix,as they control the data as well to combat bots and other suspicious search activity. Further trends in interest in SEM/SEO driven by fake news’ challenges were outlined by Search Engine Land:

  • Voice search – as consumers express satisfaction with voice search results, likely prompting Google to roll out an audio ad they can use as part of call extensions or click-to-call functions.
  • Product Listing Ads (PLAs) continue to increase with improved customization
  • Better retargeting within the digital marketing channel

All of this depends of course on the content on your site, which really is us repeating the same mantra. Quality content, based in fact, is what Google is now redoubling its efforts to rank higher than the number of backlinks. Even though this was a news-driven problem, the solutions apply to any website, so here are suggestions to stay on Google’s good side when it comes to your content:

  • Blogging: cite sources that are trustworthy. This is the low-hanging fruit, and where you’re likely placing and updating content the most.  Here’s how to nail a perfect blog.
  • Business claims: Make sure these are also vetted. You’re a business that relies on industry data, no matter what business you’re in. Whenever you use a source on your pages, and you use a link to support it, choose a trusted, accurate and even local source.
  • Location, location, location. You likely use a map on your site, so the information contained on it is also subject to scrutiny. If your third-party source is recognized by Google as valid and trustworthy, your ranking improves. City data, demographics, mapping – all of it counts, so don’t overlook it.
  • Did your customer find what they were looking for? All of the above points should answer a customer’s query to their satisfaction. If they don’t, your trustworthiness suffers, and, forgive us, your “fakeness” is likely to increase, thus damaging your ranking.

On one end, you must understand the changing landscape that fake news has plowed, which leads searchers on a quest for authenticity and accuracy. On the other end, the keywords that matter that are built into your website and the content that fills each page must still lead that search to your doorstep. As we anticipate that “fake news” may soon outsmart the changes Google and Facebook are implementing, we have to wonder how much higher the value of having an SEO expert on speed dial becomes.


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