Nothing in this world is perfect – including Google. The search giant recently caught heat over a Holocaust denial site making it to the top of search rankings for the query “did the Holocaust happen?” Clearly, some SEO work went into getting the Holocaust-denier website ranked above more authoritative sites that provide facts.
Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller wasn’t yet informed on the matter when he was asked what exactly happened in a Google Webmasters Central hangout a few weeks ago. Today, when you search for that same term you won’t see the Holocaust denial website. Instead you’ll get a lot of stories talking about how Google changed their algorithm to expunge the Holocaust denial site from the rankings.
Google’s Responsibility to the Truth
If the recent presidential election taught us anything, it’s that you can’t always believe the “news” you see on the Internet. After concerns over Russian misinformation programs and a flood of fake news stories on Facebook, major Internet players like Google are taking a hard look at the situation.
The primary issue for Google is the majority of people select the first few items in the search results. Depending on the resource used to track click throughs and the timeframe:
- The first result gets anywhere from 30-35% of the click throughs.
- The second result gets about 15%.
- The third gets 10-12%.
Those kinds of stats make it clear why the top spot is so coveted. And why so many people spoke out about the denial website getting top ranking for queries about whether or not the Holocaust occurred.
In regards to the Holocaust denial site scandal, Google released a statement that admitted, “Judging which pages on the web best answer a query is a challenging problem and we don’t always get it right.”
So why didn’t Google just remove the site from the search result pages? Because Google isn’t here to judge websites on the ethics of their content but rather their relevancy for a search query. Doing so could also trigger a domino effect where all websites, including religious sites, are held to a certain standard of proof.
Google’s statement also explained, “When non-authoritative information ranks too high in our search results, we develop scalable, automated approaches to fix the problems, rather than manually removing these one-by-one. We recently made improvements to our algorithm that will help surface more high quality, credible content on the web. We’ll continue to change our algorithms over time in order to tackle these challenges.” Those swift algorithm changes first bumped the Holocaust denial site down the page then removed it from the first page entirely after a few days.
Clearly Google knows that Pandora’s box has been opened. Websites with questionable information may need to take note that algorithm changes might begin to focus on accuracy. Rather than spending a great deal of time finding ones and twos, Google is using its engineering know-how to catch problems before they happen.
In a “post-truth” world where fake news stories can run rampant online the quest for authoritative, accurate results is getting more difficult. Only time will tell how Google will adjust its algorithms further to continue to deliver information users can trust.
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By Michael Ramirez
Michael Ramirez is the Founder of SearchRPM, an Austin, TX based search marketing company that’s well-versed in Search Engine Optimization best practices. You can follow Michael Ramirez on Twitter @openmic0323 or on Google+ to see what he’s up to next.