A member of the SEO community expressed the opinion that misinformation in medical search results topics are as harmful and bad for users as spam content. And if that’s true, then why why doesn’t Google penalize misinformation sites with the vigor that Google penalizes sites for spam? Google’s Danny Sullivan offered an explanation.
Should Misleading Information Be Treated Like Spam?
Joe Hall (@joehall), a member of the search marketing community, framed the question of misinformation in the search results within the context of a bad user experience and compared it to spam.
One of the reasons why Google cracks down on spam is because it’s a poor user experience, so it’s not unreasonable to link misinformation with spam.
Joe Hall isn’t alone in linking misleading information with spam. Google does too.
Google Defines Misleading Content as Spam
Google’s own Webmaster Guidelines defines misleading information as spam because it harms the user experience.
“A rich result may be considered spam if it harms the user experience by highlighting falsified or misleading information. For example, a rich result promoting a travel package as an Event or displaying fabricated Reviews would be considered spam.”
If a user searches for “this” and is taken to a page of content about “that,” according to Google’s own guidelines, that’s considered spam.
Is Misleading Different From Misinformation?
Some may quibble that there’s a difference between the words misleading and misinformation.
But this is how the dictionary defines those words:
“…to lead in a wrong direction or into a mistaken action or belief often by deliberate deceit… to lead astray : give a wrong impression…”
“…incorrect or misleading information”
Regardless if you believe that there’s a gulf of difference between misleading and misinformation, the end result is the same, an unfulfilled user and a bad user experience.
Google’s Algorithm Designed to Fulfill Information Needs
Google’s documentation on their ranking updates states that the purpose of the changes is to fulfill users information needs. The reason they want to send users to sites that fulfill their information needs is because that’s a “great user experience.”
Here’s what Google said about their algorithms:
“The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs.”
The word “egregious” means shockingly bad, an appropriate word to describe a site that provides misleading information for sensitive medical related search queries.
So, if it’s true that misleading information provides a poor user experience then why isn’t Google tackling these sites in the same way they take down spam sites?
If misleading information is as bad or worse than spam, why doesn’t Google hand out the most severest penalties (like manual actions) to sites that are egregious offenders?
“If you are found to spread misinformation about COVID19 vaccines… Then you shouldn’t be in Google’s index at all. It’s time that G puts it’s money where its mouth is in regards to content quality.”
Joe next tweeted about the seeming futility of the algorithm or concepts like E-A-T for dealing with misinformation and the difference between how Google treats spam and misinformation:
“Forget Core Quality Updates, YMYL, and EAT, just kick them out of the index. Sick of seeing Google put the hammer down for things like buying links… But consistently turns a blind eye to content that causes real harm to people.”
Google Responds to Issue of Misinformation in SERPs
Google’s Danny Sullivan insisted that Google is not turning a blind eye to misinformation. He affirmed Google’s commitment to showing useful information in the SERPs.
We don’t turn a blind eye. Just because something is indexed is entirely different from whether it ranks. We invest a huge amount of resources to ensure we’re returning useful, authoritative information in ranking. See also: https://t.co/SRUFrTcg56 and https://t.co/cTveD8XNxp
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 10, 2020
The end result is the same. Our systems look to reward quality. If you are posting misinformation, you’re not rewarded, because you don’t rank well. If you try to artificially boost your relevance, you’re not rewarded, because you get a manual action and don’t rank well.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 10, 2020
“Bottom line, protecting your user’s life/health should take a higher precedence than punishing link buyers.”
“It already does. You are choosing to deliberately focus on the fact that we take manual action on *some* things in *addition to* automated protections to make it seem like our existing ranking systems are somehow not trying to show the best and most useful info we can.”
“It seems like you equate manual action in the case of some spam attempts as somehow like we’re not working across all pages all the time to fight both spam and misinformation. We are.”
Joe Hall returned to ask why misleading sites aren’t penalized in a similar manner as spam is:
I understand that. The point I’m trying to make is why isn’t there a manual penalty for spreading disinformation that can kill people? Why is it that manual penalties are only reserved for links? Algorithms don’t carry the same message that manual penalties do.
— Joe Hall 🦡 (@joehall) December 11, 2020
“There are millions of pages with misinformation out there. We can’t manually review all existing pages, somehow judge them & also review every new page that’s created for topics that are entirely new. The best way to deal with that is how we do, a focus on quality ranking…
Remember the whole 15% of queries are new thing. That’s a big deal. Some new story breaks, uncertain info flows, misinfo flows along with authority info that flows. Our systems have to deal with this within seconds. Seconds. Over thousands+ pages that quickly emerge…”
Next Danny asserted that automated systems do far more heavy lifting against spam than manual actions.
“Yes, we will take manual actions in addition to the automated stuff, but that’s a tiny amount and also something where a manual approach can work, because it’s pretty clear to us what’s spam or not.”
Google and Misinformation
It’s uncertain whether Google’s algorithms are doing a good job surfacing high quality information in the search results.
But the question as to whether Google should elevate how it treats misinformation is a valid one. Particularly in YMYL queries in medical topics, blocking misinformation in those search results seems to be as important as blocking spam.
Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster
Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.
Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update
On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.
Our December 2021 product reviews update is now rolling out for English-language pages. It will take about three weeks to complete. We have also extended our advice for product review creators: https://t.co/N4rjJWoaqE
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) December 1, 2021
The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.
A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:
“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.
Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.
Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”
Continue Reading Below
Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.
The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.
The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.
The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.
Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update
Product Review Update Targets More Languages?
The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.
Continue Reading Below
But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.
This is his question:
“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.
So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.
…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”
John Mueller answered:
“I don’t know… like other languages?
My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.
But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.
But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.
I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.
But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.
And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.
So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.
But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”
Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?
While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.
Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.
One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.
It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.
Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update
Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines
John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global
Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark
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