Project Owl

October 23, 2017 / / by Bill Stern

Google Project Owl is a major new update announced to tackle fake news and hate speech, while hoping to better surface authoritative content instead. In recent months, Google has come under attack for ranking search results that show false or offensive information above trusted, authoritative sites. Needless to say, these issues gained a lot of negative attention, and the problem became so big that the search mogul decided it was time to take action. 

Confirming the new project on their blog, Google said: "Our algorithms help identify reliable sources from the hundreds of billions of pages in our index. However, 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."

But how will this new emphasis on authoritative content to improve search quality impact regular websites, such as those for medical and doctor's practices? 

The impact of Project Owl on websites

For genuine, authoritative websites looking to maximize their search engine rankings in Google, these new algorithm changes could be beneficial. 

Google’s Gary Illyes has confirmed newer or smaller websites will not be at a disadvantage when compared to bigger and branded websites, unlike in the past. Understandably, after Google's last major update downgraded many websites unexpectedly, many website owners were concerned that this new emphasis on authoritative content could once again hinder their search engine rankings. However, the new algorithm changes will not take into account the size or age of a website when determining its authority. 

So what will determine website authority?

At the moment, Google aren’t giving very much away when it comes to revealing what factors will now determine where a website ranks in their search pages. However, they have been paying quality raters to review and improve their search results over the last few months. The idea is that these people will help train the algorithms to better weed out misleading content, downgrading it in the results pages. In the past, Google claimed to be using authority to rank their websites, but they were still giving high rankings to popular sites, even if the content was false or misleading. The new focus should definitely ensure authoritative websites appear ahead of those that are popular but wrong. 

What changes must you make to your website? 

At the moment, unless you are creating content that Google will deem controversial or inappropriate, it doesn't seem like you will have to make many changes in the near future. However, it always pays to be wary, as there could be implications once the program gains wider reach and begins getting more feedback.

Always be accurate and relevant 

Considering Google now wants to place emphasis on authoritative and honest content, the more informative your content is, the better. Making sure your content is educational will also be beneficial here. For doctor's and medical practices this shouldn't be too difficult. However, information can change in an instant, which means any outdated content could see websites be downgraded in search results. Be sure to update or remove any irrelevant or old pages, and focus your efforts on publishing fresh and relevant facts. 

How will this affect medical and doctor's websites? 

In today’s busy news environment, fake medical news can spread quickly. This means searchers wanting reliable and genuine medical advice could be easily misinformed. So what can you do to ensure this doesn't happen? 

As long as your website has valid, genuine information on it, your ranking should either stay the same or improve. As mentioned above, be sure to update your content regularly, and only post content that is informative. If all medical and doctor's practice websites aim to create content that is accurate, websites publishing fake medical news and facts should appear much less on the first few pages of Google search. 

Only time will tell to see who will most benefit from Google's Project Owl. But for now, focusing on quality content that gives searchers and users the answers they are looking for, will guarantee you shouldn't be massively effected or punished. Check out Google's Search Quality Rater Guidelines to see detailed examples of low-quality webpages that include misleading information and unexpected results.

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