Google Develops Algorithm That Rewards Factual Accuracy Over Links
Everybody knows that the internet is full of factually inaccurate, questionable, deceitful or even blatantly untrue information. Some of the biggest portals for content discovery may now be feeling a responsibility to help people weed out inaccurate content.
For example, Facebook recently began displaying a "satire" tag on articles from publications such as The Onion in an effort to prevent people from thinking they're factually accurate. A new research paper from Google reveals that they might be moving in a similar and completely groundbreaking direction.
Google Developing "Knowledge-Based Trust" Technology
According to a research paper released by Google last month, the company has developed technology to rank pages within search results based on factual accuracy rather than popularity. As pointed out in the paper, Google has typically used "exogenous" signals, such as the number and quality of backlinks to a page, rather than "endogenous" signals such as the factual accuracy of a page's content. Pages with fewer false facts can be considered more trustworthy, regardless of the number of links pointing to them. Along with quality content, backlinks have long been considered one of the most important elements of ranking highly in search engine results.
So how would Google do it? Well, the idea is actually pretty simple: compare the facts on any given page to a database of factually accurate information. Google has already created Knowledge Vault - the biggest database of knowledge ever attempted in human history. Knowledge Vault stores facts from sources such as the CIA World Factbook, Wikipedia and Freebase.
The Knowledge Vault also helps Google display Knowledge Graph information within the search results. According to the new research paper, Google structures many facts into "knowledge triples" such as "Barack Obama, nationality, USA" or "Canada, capital, Ottawa." Google can then simply check these "triples" against the facts of a particular page when choosing where to rank it.
Philosophical and Practical Concerns
Google's new approach is only being discussed in theory and is not necessarily part of their algorithm yet, although "quality content" could technically be synonymous with "content that maintains factual accuracy." At the same time, the idea brings up several philosophical problems. The nature of truth in particular is something that humans have been trying to grapple with since the dawn of time. "Knowledge-Based Trust" raises questions like:
- Can we ever really know what's actually true?
- How can we separate real truth from consensus, e.g. if the internet existed when people thought the world was flat, would a page claiming the world was round be essentially invisible in search results?
- Should a for-profit company be in charge of determining what's "true" on the internet?
More practically speaking, how would Google rank different sites that have the exact same level of factual accuracy? Does Google plan to store all human knowledge in its Knowledge Vault? How would this change affect the millions of sites that don't really deal with fact-based information?
Impact (Or Lack Thereof) On SEO
If Google does ever decide to adopt this strategy, it's unlikely that backlinks will ever be completely ignored in their algorithm. Knowledge-based trust would probably work in tandem with backlinks and quality content to determine rankings. Also, a change like this would just further cement the importance of quality, authoritative content. Not only would your content need to maintain factual accuracy, it would also have to present those facts in the best way possible if it's going to be ranked highly by Google. This is nothing new, though - businesses and individuals who are successful with content are already taking this approach.