For years, Google and other search engines have looked for signals of websites’ quality to rank them, and they developed a number of useful strategies. The problem is that black-hat site creators engaged in an arms race with them, changing their tactics with every move the search engines made and propelling low-value sites to the top of the rankings – at least temporarily. Site traffic, keywords, backlinks, semantic indexing, guest bloggers and social signals have all had their time as signifiers of quality, but Google’s researchers are looking in a new direction to add utility to their rankings: facts.
With Knowledge-Based Trust scores assuming a place alongside other signals, Google hopes to weed out the thin content and heavily padded writing that come from content mills and the writers who work for them. A site’s depth of research and verifiability will now count toward its page rank. While the new algorithm set isn’t ready to roll out yet, the search engine’s next major update will incorporate the Knowledge Vault Google’s been building for years as a yardstick against which sites will be measured for factual accuracy.
What does this mean for content marketing and SEO strategies? If you’ve hired content experts and professional writers to handle your content, you’re in luck. Verifiable statements, valid knowledge and quotes happen naturally in writing that’s based on even cursory research. Sites that have become knowledge repositories themselves after months or years of regular blog posts, white papers and articles are in even better shape as they may have had a hand in creating the Knowledge Vault. The biggest winners, at least if the fact-based algorithm works as intended, will be the most authoritative sites, many of which have .gov and .edu extensions.
Even large sites that regularly pop up in search engine results pages may be in for some surprises. Aggregate sites are only as good as the articles they curate, which could cost crowd-sourced answer websites vast volumes of traffic. Information on social media channels may likewise take a hit as they contain such an assortment of information that separating fact from fiction may be impossible.
The change also raises questions about what the Knowledge Vault contains and how Google assesses valid facts versus speculation, misinformation or outright falsehoods. Most Google users would agree, for example, that the Flat Earth Society’s geology articles should rank below the U.S. Geological Survey’s information, but not every fact is as clear-cut. Achieving consensus on hot-button political issues could be a challenge even Google’s team of researchers has trouble managing.
For B2B content creators, the story’s a little more straightforward. If you showcase your industry knowledge and facts about your product line, you’re probably in good shape – that is, unless your business involves selling maps of a flat Earth. You could be in trouble, though, if you’ve relied on inexpensive mill content or penny-a-word writers to handle your online content. No one who works for a few dollars an article has time for extensive research, and it shows. The good news is that it isn’t too late. Google doesn’t plan on rolling out their Knowledge-Based Trust scoring system for months, and that’s enough time to upgrade your content to lean more heavily on knowledge than on meeting a word count.
The most popular answers aren’t always the right ones, and Google’s trying to serve users the most accurate content instead of the most clicked content. While it’s a safe bet facts won’t be the sole quality index for search engine results pages, it’s something you and your content team should think about today to avoid scrambling to rewrite your blog in six months.