So, let’s break this down, for clarity’s sake:
- Google are changing the news and general search algorithms to prioritise high quality original reporting — and display it for longer
- They have also updated their human reviewer guidelines to suggest using awards are one metric of “high quality”
Humans are not deciding which “high quality” journalism sources are being prioritised - the algorithm is still doing that. Human reviewers are just looking for evidence that the algorithm isn’t doing its job, and they’re using some new standards and benchmarks to do that. They don’t manually intervene is search results - they notify the algorithm team, which uses their data to tweak the algorithm, again.
Nor, indeed, is “award-winning” being used as the major metric. It’s just one signal reviewers can use to judge how well the algorithm is doing.
The really clear reason for this change is the prevalence of large outlets doing quick SEO-focused write-throughs of other people’s stories, and (essentially) getting as much traffic as they can off other people’s stories. We can debate the ethics of that all night, but the reality is that it has been a successful strategy for a while.
That is under threat.
We’ll see how it works out in practice, but if you are working on a publication that relies on that sort of traffic:
- Start actively monitoring search traffic to that category of reporting
- Start putting in place contingencies to replace that traffic if it does prove to be threatened
Conversely, hopefully this will incentivise people to do more original reporting, as Google is aiming to display the original stories for longer. Intentionally or not, historically Google has had a habit of displaying the newest stories, not the original story, giving further succour to the write through operations.
Another potential downside is that the change might start helping the big outlets at the expense of the small ones. For good reasons, the “award-winning” outlets messaging has people worried: