the evolution of journalism
There has been a monumental shift in journalism over the past few decades. First came the digital age and the advent of the internet – information was readily accessible, but largely created by government organizations and established companies. Then came social media, and the development of a space where consumers and brands could interact with each other and share relevant content with their communities. Today, journalism has morphed into something else entirely. We now live in a world where virtually anyone can publish content from the comfort of their home and it can go viral by morning.
This evolution is equal parts exciting and terrifying. Exciting? Anyone with a Wi-Fi-connected device can not only immediately access the information they need when they need it, but actually participate in the creation and distribution of it. Terrifying? Individuals are now equipped with the tools required to alter what is perceived as fact or truth, and organizations with unique agendas can impact public perception through content.
Never before has the question of a source’s authenticity, authority, and accuracy been more important. Or more frequently discussed. Now, whenever a consumer scrolls through Facebook or stumbles across an interesting article, they must universally ask themselves: “Is this real? Or is this just fake news?”
Introduction of fake news
What determines if an article is real or fake? And who makes that determination? Historically content was assumed credible if it was written by a well-established organization and/or was supported by reliable sources. This has become increasingly less important as things like blogs and influencers pick up steam.
Now, credibility and authority are earned based on the context in which a piece of content is presented – something is ‘credible’ if it’s shared by friends or family on social media, or if it appears as a listing on one of Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). Even though sites like Snopes exist to identify instances of fake news, it’s still up to individual consumers to put in the time to figure it out. But if the content in question appears within a credible context, the number of people who would actually dig into it drops dramatically.
SEARCH ENGINES IN THE ERA OF FAKE NEWS
The role search engines play in validating information cannot be overstated. Google is one of the biggest, most powerful companies in the world. Brands spend thousands (if not millions) of dollars each year to ensure they appear within its search results. In this context, it’s easy to see how the content that appears in top search results is inherently deemed credible.
Google is acutely aware of the enormous role its search engine plays in the lives of consumers around the world – with nearly ubiquitous internet access, searchers can instantly look up or verify any piece of information at any moment. To its credit, this is why Google operates in a constant state of evolution, continually tweaking its algorithm and the appearance of its SERP in support of one overarching initiative: improve user experience.
Voice search is a prime example of this evolution. Voice is a booming trend in consumer behavior that shows no signs of slowing down. From a searcher’s perspective, it makes it even easier to find the information you’re looking for – just ask Siri or the Google Assistant a question, and you’ll instantly receive a succinct answer to it.
The reason Siri can return such a quick response is because it’s pulling from a single result. More specifically, Google is using its Featured Snippets (aka Quick Answers) for voice responses – it essentially modified an existing SERP element to support changing consumer behavior. But while Google’s algorithm factors in myriad SEO signals to determine what ranks for a quick answer, it doesn’t change the fact that today voice searches return just one result.
Why does this matter for fake news? Because even if an inaccurate piece of information ranks for a quick answer, it will still be the only answer provided for a voice query. And with just one result provided, it is unlikely that a searcher would investigate beyond it or spend more than a second or two thinking about the source the answer was pulled from. Remember when we said that information found within search engines is almost universally assumed as credible? Case in point.
HOW TO COMBAT fake news with authentic content
Search engines have been building checks and balances to reduce the impact unverified information has on search results, but this is an arduous process that may never reach total completion. No matter what, internet giants must still rely on algorithms to process and deliver content to match the trillions of searches that occur each year. And this often leads to a lag between when a topic grows in popularity (as measured by search volume) and when verified information will display in the results page for that topic.
More simply: fake news might never go away. But that doesn’t mean we’re defenseless against it. In many ways the development and distribution of authentic content has never been more important. The beauty of living in a world where literally anyone can create content means that we don’t need to wait for publishers and governmental organizations to do something – search marketers and brand content managers are equally capable of battling fake news with accurate, authentic, holistic content.
Organizations with the resources available to develop and publish truthful, fact-based content must take responsibility for searches related to their vertical. However, simply creating great content doesn’t mean it will rank in search results. Foundational SEO practices must still be followed to ensure search engines can find and display the content created to answer unique queries. Well optimized page titles, meta descriptions, H1 and H2 tags, and Schema.org markup can all help ensure quality content ranks for relevant searches.
As always, it will be incredibly important to keep an eye on both the evolution of consumer behavior and the wave of technology changes that follow in its wake. Voice search results are just one example of how content access has shifted recently, but the list certainly doesn’t end there. Brands and marketers who keep tabs on this world and proactively adapt their strategies will continue to find success, no matter what they’re up against.
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