Google changing search algorithms to curb click-bait

Google's Search product is displayed on a tablet computer.
Google’s Search product is displayed on a tablet computer. (Stock image via Pexels, Graphic by The Desk)

Google says it is rolling out an update to its search engine that should help users avoid click-bait designed to game its system.

The update comes as many online publishers use search engine optimization, or SEO, techniques that are aimed at helping their individual articles rank higher in Google’s search results. The residual traffic from that practice has been proven to drive higher sales to a website, but often comes at the compromise of frustrating users who are often presented with a web page that looks nothing like what they expected.

“Many of us have experienced the frustration of visiting a web page that seems like it has what we’re looking for, but doesn’t live up to our expectations,” Danny Sullivan, a spokesperson for Google, wrote last week. “The content might not have the insights you want, or it may not even seem like it was created for, or even by, a person.”

Sullivan said Google had received feedback from users that content designed to game its search engine isn’t helpful when those web pages are “designed to attract clicks rather than inform readers.” To combat this, Google says it is changing the way its search engine delivers results to users, with a focus on finding original, unique content that is helpful. It comes several months after Google tweaked its product review offering to lean on content developed by people who had specific expertise in an area like technology.

“Together, these launches are part of a broader, ongoing effort to reduce low-quality content and make it easier to find content that feels authentic and useful in [Google] Search,” Sullivan affirmed.

In the streaming media space, the search tweaks could help attract more visitors to websites like The Desk, Fierce Video and TechHive, which produce original stories that incorporate deep research and analysis. It could prove problematic for marketing blogs like The Streamable and Cord Cutters News, who have employed spammy SEO practices in the past with “How to watch [program] without cable for free on [platform]” as part of a broader business strategy to convert readers into paying customers of streaming services that they sell.

Marketing blogs are not the only ones who have employed SEO tactics in an attempt to game Google’s search engine: News publishers, including newspapers and television stations, have also employed SEO in order to draw more traffic to their websites and products in an attempt to generate more advertising revenue.

Unlike marketing blogs, news organizations are more-likely to bounce back from the detrimental effects of any tweaks Google makes to its search engine results. Earlier this year, Toronto Star columnist Navneet Alang wrote that news publishers tend to respond to changes made by Google and others by simply modifying their own output to match them.

“It’s a sort of vicious cycle,” Alang said. “Google endlessly refines search to try and predict what people want, but in response, entire industries work to pollute search results by giving people a cheap, knock-off version of what they want.”

While it may sound like a lost cause, Google has a real reason for making ongoing changes to its search algorithm: Last month, news reports surfaced that said an internal survey conducted by Google showed young users were increasingly searching for things on TikTok instead of its search results. Last year, TikTok surpassed Google as the most-visited domain, ending Google’s two-decade reign as the king of the Internet.

Another part of the study showed that many older adults search for products and services on Amazon first. Google said both trends indicates user want a visual-rich search experience that prioritizes uniqueness and helpfulness over anything else. The modifications announced to its search engine earlier this month certainly seem to indicate that Google is willing to receive and respond to that kind of feedback.

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