Social media, SEO and online advertising have made it possible for content creators to more easily make money than it was in the past. People can write articles that can be placed on a self-owned website, the link promoted through Facebook or Google, and the website owner can reap the benefits in ad revenue. Unfortunately, this set of circumstances give some people an incentive to use unscrupulous practices to get views and gain traffic. Over the last few weeks, Google and Facebook have announced efforts to curb these practices and to reduce the reach of questionable content.
One of the largest problems on social media and search is the creation of fake news stories and websites to gain traffic and revenue. In this case, “fake news” means articles that are completely untrue and were only written to gain traffic from their sensational claims. Facebook did a lot of work last year and during the first quarter of 2017 to limit the organic reach of posts with links to pages with purposefully inaccurate content, now Google is doing the same.
In an interview with the BBC, Ben Gomes, part of Google’s search division, said “Google was making “structural” changes to tackle the new ways people had found to trick its algorithms.” According to the Gomes, Google added new metrics to its ranking systems earlier this year that “should help to stop false information entering the top results for particular search terms.”
Part of the issue is that some website with controversial content were able to take advantage of Google’s algorithm to get their content to appear prominently in search results and answer cards. This lead to a situation where conspiracy theorists were supplied as legitimate answers or in top search results placings. To combat this misuse of the algorithm, Google has updated the guidelines given to the thousands of human raters it used to give feedback on whether results were accurate.
It’s somewhat ironic that, in the end, the answer to this technical problems is to use more humans to review the automatic filtering done by computers and algorithms. Facebook is using a similar tactic in their attempt to reign in the out-of-control use of Facebook Live by bad actors or people considering self-harm. The issue of people using Facebook Live to show offensive content is definitely something to consider when Facebook offers your business the chance to let members of the public post live events to your Business Page timeline.
However, more importantly to marketers, Facebook is making it harder for links to sites with little substantive content and a lot of ads to be promoted on Facebook. Facebook had already made it harder to use these links in Facebook ads. The policy is expanding to organic post reach. Now, even without paid promotion, posts with links to advertising heavy and/or spammy website will get significantly lowered organic reach.
This change is a double-edged sword for website owners. Clearly, every website owner wants to be able to promote any of their links on social media without any hassle, but there is definitely a benefit in reducing the reach of poorly made content or links to pages that will annoy readers when they arrive. If people become accustomed to links on Facebook taking them to advertising heavy and unenjoyable websites, people will stop clicking on links in Facebook, and that would hurt everyone.
It’s important to understand that even legitimate websites can be dinged by this policy on Facebook. If your site has interesting and accurate information, but also contains a large amount of ads, or the ads themselves (which the website owner may not have selected) contain content that Facebook wants to see less of, then the page’s organic reach may suffer.
Facebook has a “fingerprint” for pages with bad content, and that includes pages with intrusive pop-up or interstitial ads, that used pornographic pictures for dating sites, or used shocking images for treatments that purported to tackle many different ailments.
Facebook and Google are working to ensure their platforms remain relevant going into the future and that their technology isn’t being misused by people who wish to take advantage of the public. Website owners and marketers need to keep abreast of these changes to make sure their site isn’t inadvertently hurt by the efforts of tech giants.
For more changes business owners should be aware of, read this article on updates to Google made in April.