Google’s latest algorithm change aims to improve the quality of search results by attacking fake news and problematic content.
Although the search engine states that the name Project Owl is purely random, the idea of the owl as a symbol of wisdom – bringing wisdom back into online searches – is wholly appropriate.
“It’s become very apparent that a small set of queries in our daily traffic (around 0.25 percent), have been returning offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for. To help prevent the spread of such content for this subset of queries, we’ve improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content.” –Google
On April 25, Google announced its latest quality improvement for search – some major changes created to fight fake news and hate speech that has recently been polluting search results. The update gives consumers new ways to report problems in search results.
This update sees the launch of:
- A new feedback form for search suggestions from users
- Formal policies outlining why suggestions could be removed
- A new feedback form for ‘Featured Snippets’ answers
- An emphasis on authoritative content to improve the quality of search results
Why is Google making changes to its algorithm?
Google has recently been under fire for search results which link to fake news. This content is where people completely make things up, involving rumours, conspiracies and myths. Some include shocking or offensive information, posing an entirely new content problem for Google.
A lot of negative media attention was received and this became such a public relations nightmare that Google decided to take action.
For the first time, Google has published reasons why something might be removed. These policies focus on non-legal reasons why Google may remove suggestions.
What are the new ways for users to report problems?
Google’s auto complete function has one of the biggest changes. This is where Google suggests options to complete your query as you type in the search box.
Now there is a way to tell Google if you see something you don’t like. The tool comes with a little line which says ‘report inappropriate predictions’. When you click the link, a box will pop up that lets you tell Google if the predictions are hateful, sexually explicit, violent or including dangerous and harmful activity plus an ‘other’ category with a comments box.
Users can also report problems via information boxes that Google supplies on its main page. Below is an example of an information box when Googling ‘Why is the grass green?’ After clicking feedback under the box, the below feedback form appears.
When does Project Owl come into effect?
The changes will be rolled out ‘gradually’ but users should see them now.
How does Google decide what is ‘authoritative’?
For a few months, Google has been paying human ‘raters’ to review and improve their search results. Although these people can’t change the search results directly, their reports help train algorithms to weed out the fake news.
What does Project Owl mean for organic search?
This new algorithm update is expected to improve Google users’ browsing experience. The primary goal of the update seems to be to show more reliable pages and demote low-quality content. The update will see an improvement in featured snippet answers too, which are also used within Google Assistant for voice search.
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