The mystery behind how Google Search works is something that those in the SEO community strive to learn more about every day. Sometimes we learn from our peers through case studies and practical implementation, such as the in-depth article I wrote about how to optimize for the Core Web Vitals, and sometimes we learn from Google themselves. Over the last few years, I have noticed a shift in Google’s efforts to be more transparent and open up the lines of communication between those at Google and SEOs, webmasters, etc. Examples of these are Google Webmaster Hangouts, the advent of the “Google Search Liaison” twitter account and all kinds of various Google published videos that answer common questions about search.
Two weeks ago, Google dropped an hour long “home movie” titled “Trillions of Questions, No Easy Answer: a (home) movie about how Google search works”. This video has so far been my favorite piece of Google published content aside from the Google Webmaster Hangout videos where Google has directly answered some of my own burning questions, like HERE, HERE and HERE. In this video they unpack so much about Google search that can help even those outside of search marketing understand complex search subjects. Things like the evolution of search, spam, why there is advertising, search infrastructure and data centers and even machine learning & BERT. My biggest takeaway from the video was around the topic of how Google’s algorithms can provide results that contain misinformation.
Misinformation in Google Search
I really like the way this topic was covered. Google has mentioned before that every day, 15% of the queries they see, are queries they have never seen before. That would obviously make returning correct, appropriate results each and every time very challenging.
They first highlighted a few of the ways they have returned results that were, kind of hilarious. A couple of examples were, for the search query “what color is green”, they returned a knowledge panel result with the answer blue. For the search query, “meat nutrition facts”, their returned another knowledge panel result with a piece of content about roasted muskrat. This provided good comic relief before shedding light on some truly poor experiences.
They next talked about an instance which was widely covered back in 2016, about the holocaust being a hoax. When users searched for “did the holocaust happen” the vast majority of results which Google returned were low quality “holocaust denier” type sites. But how could this happen?
Quality vs Relevancy
Google looks at a lot of factors when determining which sites to return in search and rank for various queries. Two main categories of factors are Quality and Relevancy. Relevancy is more geared towards things like, does the website or page contain the search query, do they talk about this type of subject matter often, etc. Quality is more about a website or page showing that is has expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, sometimes referred to as EAT, around a given subject matter.
In the instance of the search query for “did the holocaust happen”, many high quality websites’ pages did not contain this search query or other related ones. This is because they did not bother to debate this topic. They (rightfully) assumed that this was just a commonly known fact. So, the lower quality sites that did explicitly mention “did the holocaust happen” and actively debated the topic, were deemed more relevant for this query and in turn, were able to rank for it because the relevancy ranking factor superseded the quality factor.
Google’s Reaction and What Search Marketers Can Takeaway from This Change
Google realized that this was just “the tip of the iceberg” said NAME, TITLE, they knew that they would have to make a change do the algorithm and not just for this specific group of queries. They understood that for queries related to topics around misinformation, Google would have to emphasize expertise over relevance. This is also the case for queries around topics like medicine or finance, often referred to as “Your Money Your Life (YMYL)” topics. Here is a quote from NAME from the video. “The change we have made in the case of misinformation is to change the ranking function to emphasize authority a lot more”. This is confirmation about a subject that the SEO community has been debating for years. How important is EAT for YMYL type content. Given this answer from NAME, I would suggest that it is of the utmost importance and should be something that SEOs take very seriously. They need to learn how to optimize a site that is trying to rank for these types of queries and demonstrate to Google that they should be considered and expert, authoritative and source.
How to Learn More about EAT and YMYL
If you are an SEO with clients in the medical or financial space and you want to learn more about EAT, I highly recommend checking out Lily Ray’s thorough resource for everything EAT. I’ve had the pleasure of attending one of her talks at SMX Advanced in Seattle and have followed her content over the last few years. She is definitely a thought leader in the space and someone to stay close to for more information about EAT and YMYL.