After months of “fake news” being a central issue in global politics, Google has cracked down on the problem in its search results with the mysteriously named Project Owl, but what is it? Project Owl is a new Google initiative that aims to cut down on the amount of problematic search results on Google’s service, from offensive content to out-and-out lies on important topics.
The battle against fake news
Far removed from the spam that the tech mega-giant is used to dealing with, problematic searches are having a real impact on society on a potentially disastrous level, even though, as Pandu Nayak a Google employee developing search quality claims, they are only ‘a fraction of our [Google’s] query stream.’
The first improvements can be found in Google’s auto-complete function – the drop down box that tries to predict what you’re searching for. In the past, this function could result in some rather unpleasant predictions, as shown in the Guardian’s article on the reality bending power of search engine results last December.
Despite this being an issue for some time, recent events have prompted Google to add the ability for users to report results that they deem unsavoury. Many have claimed this is gaming the system and would allow Black Hat marketers to abuse the results, but the user feedback is heavily processed, and results may only be fast tracked for removal if a high number of reports occur in a short period of time. Indeed, most searches do not directly influence the results, but inform updates to Google’s algorithms.
In a similar vein, users can now report offending featured snippets. These are the large blocks of information that appear at the top of search results pages, containing what Google algorithms consider the most useful information relating to that search. Most recently these snippets have been used in conjunction with Google’s Home devices, with the home assistants reading out snippet data to answer a question asked of it. It is not hard to imagine how problematic content, present in Google’s featured snippets, could cause problems, especially when spoken out loud in a robotic monotone.
What has Project Owl changed?
As well as gathering valuable user feedback, Google is looking to update the way its search algorithms decide which web pages are most authoritative on the subject of a users search. Google have begun boosting results that are more authoritative over exact search term matches for obscure searches; removing the echo chamber effect of certain problematic searches that only confirm existing biases.
Since the introduction of these changes, the number of searches resulting in problematic content has dropped massively, marking a resounding success for the initial algorithmic changes.
This is all well and good, but what does it mean for search engine optimisation? Luckily, for the majority of users who aren’t looking to spread inappropriate content and undertake good SEO practices, it will have no effect at all. The changes under Project Owl simply make the pre-existing criteria for authoritative content with outbound links and citations, more important than ever.
If you think that your content could use an authority boost, or just want to chat about what we can offer your business, then why not get in touch? Contact Mark or Alice today on 0121 321 2828 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.