Wednesday 08 April, 2015
If you’re an internet marketer pedaling pseudoscience for profit, or a quasi-news outlet that believes news is a form of entertainment, you should be worried about the changes Google might be on the cusp of making in its algorithms
Google is considering new ways to rank content not by popularity but by trustworthiness. It has issued a report suggesting it use its Knowledge Vault rather than backlinks to establish the credibility of information online. This could badly hurt websites that rely on misinformation or deliberate distortions of fact for their profits.
It has always been Google’s mission to deliver results that are not only popular but also credible. Right now, Google’s algorithms do this by considering backlinks. The logic is that if a site has a large number of backlinks from other sites Google considers credible, this means the site itself must be credible.
The only problem with this is that it’s easy to game. Online marketers and SEO wizards spend a great deal of time figuring out how to obtain these “high quality” links. It doesn’t matter what kind of content your site contains, if it has enough of these backlinks, Google will send traffic there.
Google is now considering using its Knowledge Vault to give each website a credibility score. The Knowledge Vault is a vast digital storehouse of information, the facts of which are checked by bots. It contains information from all over the web and this information is rated according to how factual its bots find it. Of course, the algorithms by which they do this are super-secret.
Since website rankings are determined by backlinks, there are a number of conspiracy websites that get a great deal of web traffic. This lends credibility to these websites full of bad information, which only further mislead people who aren’t terribly skeptical or internet savvy.
Nobody knows exactly which sites will be affected by these proposed changes or how, but there’s general consensus that the following types of sites will see a drop in their traffic is Google institutes these changes:
– Gossip websites like Gawker.com that don’t report actual news so much as speculation on the news.
– Websites that sell health care products or other types of products that use a great deal of vague, unverified facts or information that’s factually incorrect.
– Conspiracy websites such as those of the anti-vaccine movement, those that purport 9-11 was an inside job, and those that deny climate change.
– Pseudo news websites that often fall into the above category of conspiracy theories and speculation
But on the other hand, would it make us more educated netizens? That’s what Google is hoping. Some worry that the Knowledge Vault, in judging facts somewhat by consensus, could leave out alternative sources of information or information that is underreported.
On paper, it sounds like a good change. Most people don’t have the critical thinking skills or BS detectors to stay ahead of unethical marketers and conspiracy theorists.
Keep in mind, however that these changes aren’t afoot yet. Speculation about these changes is based largely on an article in the New Scientist. The article mentions a report by some Google researchers suggesting that this is a good option. It doesn’t mean the change is necessarily coming, so Alex Jones and Natural News don’t have to worry yet.