Recently, Google updated their search rater guidelines to help them better recognise and reward original reporting by surfacing it more prominently in search and ensuring it stays there longer. This means readers interested in a specific story can find the piece that started all the fuss, and publishers can reap the rewards of having their high-quality original reporting surfaced to a greater number of users. Here’s a guide to the changes and our tips on how to make the most of this new behaviour.
What does this change entail?
Let’s say your publication has secured an exclusive interview with an A-list celebrity. This interview includes a number of revelations as yet unheard by the public. Months of work has gone into securing access, your team has researched, created, subbed and produced a great piece, and you publish it. In our current news cycle, many publications regularly borrow quotes and angles from others, creating pages of content about this topic in Google’s SERP. Elsewhere, a single news event will be covered by many thousands of publications worldwide. Your publication may dig deeper than others by sharing data on specific angles of the story or accruing quotes from sources central to the story.
Google’s changes aim to aid their users to find the original source on news topics. Moving forward, articles recognised by Google as ‘original reporting’ on a given search term may stay in a highly visible position on the search results page over a long period of time. We’re yet to see exactly where these will be positioned, but it’s likely these will sit above all other results.
How will Google do this?
Google’s algorithms sort through content, arranging stories in a way that offers the best experience for their users. These algorithms are constantly updated and improved, and Google’s latest change to the algorithm is to train it to take into account the ‘originality’ of content within a story, the timing of the post and the quality of the publication producing it.
To achieve this, Google will harness the use of a 10,000-strong team of raters worldwide. This team has been instructed to use the highest rating – “very high quality” – for original news reporting “that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it.” Noting that “…original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort.”
These raters will be tasked to consider a publication’s reputation, too. From Google’s guidelines: “…you might find that a newspaper (with an associated website) has won journalistic awards. Prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize award, or a history of high-quality original reporting are strong evidence of positive reputation.”
How will this change affect a publications’ traffic?
Ranking in a top position for a popular search term will have a significant effect on traffic for a publication, so this change is likely to offer the greatest benefit to newspapers and large publications pinned on the page for popular terms.
We’re yet to see whether this change will also affect niche stories, but if this happens it could aid specialist publications with long-tail traffic on stories broken by them and then picked up by larger publications.
This change is unlikely to affect the results below this highlighted story, however, so don’t expect a huge drop in traffic from search.
How can we use this update to our advantage with SEO?
Now’s the time to look at how you can increase the longevity of stories by producing them with an ‘evergreen’ approach in mind. Rather than reworking existing stories or publishing slightly tweaked press releases, publications that add to stories with further reporting, quotes, new angles or ‘deep-dives’ could find themselves pinned to Google’s results, attracting a steady stream of long term traffic.
As Google raters will be analysing publisher reputation, it could be worth looking at an ‘About’ page (remember them?), using this to cement your publication as an authority, listing journalistic awards and accolades. It could make sense to update Wikipedia entries with this information, too.
Secure exclusives whenever it makes sense to, and when working with embargoed press releases, spend time ahead of publication to ensure the story probes deeper than others. The knock-on result for your audience is a further increase in the quality of content which will reap benefits for your publication overall, building loyalty and increasing dwell times – another positive!
This could prove a significant change to the behaviour of content in Google’s search results page. But, don’t be intimidated. For publications which already devote time and resource to producing original takes on a topic, this update could bring with it serious rewards. Continue to focus on telling stories you care about in the way you’d expect of another top-tier publisher, and you’re well on your way to capitalising upon this search update, and benefiting your publication hugely as a result.