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SEO 9 min read May 5, 2017

How Google's New Project Owl Update Can Affect Brands

How Google 16261788087013
How Google 16261788087014
Sarah Laoyan
Marketing Coordinator at 41 Orange
Last week Google announced they would be implementing changes in an effort to combat inaccurate information and hateful search results from their search engine. In this article I'll cover the possible pros and cons of this update and how it can affect brands.

What is Project Owl and how it works

Project Owl is Google's update gives users the ability to report information they may deem inappropriate, inaccurate or offensive.
Let's see how it works:
A new link to a feedback form will appear underneath Google's suggested searches;
How Google 16261788087015
A new link to a feedback form will appear underneath "Featured Snippets;"
How Google 16261788087015
These changes have been implemented after Google has been scrutinized for sharing some questionable content. In December of 2016 the number one result for the search query "did the Holocaust happen" was linked to a pro-Nazi site. Other missteps include featuring Breitbart for a top science or news story regarding the Great Barrier Reef.

Project Owl is Google's reaction to combatting these problematic results. Whether it's inaccurate information or offensive search queries, Google wants to ensure that what we receive is reliable and relevant information.

What will this change immediately for Search Engine Marketers?

In their blog post regarding the updates, Google stated:
We combine hundreds of signals to determine which results we show for a given query — from the freshness of the content, to the number of times your search queries appear on the page. We've adjusted our signals to help surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content, so that issues similar to the Holocaust denial results that we saw back in December are less likely to appear.
Ben Gomes, VP, Engineering
Google will be putting, even more, weight on what they deem as "authoritative" sources in search engine results. While authority is currently being used to rank sites, the specifics of the content they deem authoritative and how the algorithm will be used is still unclear.

As of right now, this update doesn't seem to have wide-reaching effects for most brands. Unless you produce content that Google may deem inappropriate or controversial, it doesn't seem like much is going to change in the near future.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention. There could be possible implications as this program gains wider reach and begins picking up feedback. Let's explore.

What COULD this mean for Search Engine Marketers?

For marketers, this is an opportunity to push for content that validates their products or services. Considering the current feedback form, what's going to stop marketers from bombarding Google to push for their version of correct information? Will the feedback forms have a way to distinguish feedback from marketers or advertisers?

This also questions whether or not Google may deem branded content as authoritative content. Since Google never specified what is "authoritative," that could mean that branded content may be taking a backseat to more informational based sites.

Some good things that could happen:

Brands with already high ranking authoritative content might become even more relevant and see better results;
With Google's currently vague ranking on authority, those brands that already have high ranking authority may be in the clear. Their changes may only affect those with questionable or blatantly misleading content.
A push for more information-based content could bring in more interested leads naturally;
If marketers continue to follow Google's trends regarding search engine marketing, the more informational content you are currently writing could be ranked higher, helping you attract leads naturally.

If your marketing was more promotional based, making the switch to more educational or informational based content could help boost rankings under this new change. This would attract more qualified traffic to the website, giving them a chance to market to those qualified leads further after this initial visit.
This enforces accountability on content creators to have accurate and relevant information at all times.
Information can change very quickly. This new update could force marketers to only give individuals the most reliable information as possible if they want to be considered a high ranking authority. This allows the consumers the ability to do their own research and find reliable information on the goods or services they're considering to purchase. The brands that are on top of this will most likely be the brands that could be ranked higher within the search results.

This change could also mean that outdated, old or now irrelevant pages ranking high in Google could see a downgrade in results. This could be great for marketers focusing on fresh content!

The Possible Downsides:

Google may decrease authority from branded content altogether;
With accurate information being the catalyst for this update, Google may choose to decrease the authority from branded content altogether to allow consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions. This could mean that even those brands with high ranking content could be knocked down a few pegs by websites with well-sourced informational content. A good linking strategy that established authority while also pulling in from quality sources could counterbalance this.
The report button may be abused;
This may be a general downside to the feature that doesn't affect just marketers, but anyone who uses Google. Users may abuse the button against information they may deem misleading or for information that doesn't necessarily jive with their point-of-view.

In the case of marketers, many people could mark any marketing material "misleading" as it often guides the viewer to choose the product or service they're selling instead of general information.

Also, consider the spammy feedback you could get from competitors. How easy would it be for a competitor to go through and negatively report your content to help theirs? The only thing that seems to be put in place to combat this is Google's team of feedback evaluators. Which, from what it seems like, may already have a lot on their plate.

Google's employees are now the current gatekeepers of what is deemed as "accurate" information

Google's new team of employees monitoring the forms are utilizing this feedback to create a new algorithm to help strengthen their search results. We've seen something similar to this happen with Facebook when they changed their trending news sidebar to an algorithm, instead of an editorial team. After this change had been implemented, the rise of fake news appearing on Facebook was much higher than when there was a team monitoring it.

The big thing here is that we're trusting Google to give us the most accurate and objective information. The problem is that humans (with biases and opinions) are creating these algorithms for us and then filtering their form of the "truth" to us. How can we be sure that the information that we're going to receive will be devoid of their personal biases and opinions?
We've already seen the effects of this in the case of artificial intelligence picking up on ingrained biases in our language and how we speak. It will be extremely difficult if not impossible for Google, or anyone for that matter, to create an objective filter to give us truly unbiased information.

Obviously, this is a much broader issue that an average marketer will not be able to tackle, but it is important to be conscious of how people are consuming information.

So what's next?

Right now, it's definitely too soon for marketers to be making drastic changes to their strategies. Much like any technology these days, things are always changing, and the only thing we can do as marketers is to change and adapt to it to ensure that our content is being seen.

For now, keep focusing on quality, balanced content that gives searchers the answers they are looking for, and you should be okay.

As with all Google changes, only time will tell.

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