Since Google’s inception and ultimate dominance over the search engine market, regular changes and updates to their algorithms and SERP (Search Engine Results Page) features have been necessary in their attempt to perfect it’s user experience. The history of these changes has had a major impact on both businesses and individuals in regards to their online reputations and how content under their brand is being displayed on SERPs.
There’s no questioning the progress Google has made over the years in awarding relevant content and cutting down on spam. However, there is still a long road ahead to perfecting the process and doing right by their users. Reputation Management and the company’s that specialize in this field offer businesses and individuals the ability to prepare for damaging online content or changes to Google that could negatively impact their brand.
Page Authority Through Inbound Links
Back in the early 90’s, obtaining and hosting a website was a very different process than it is today. Before 1995, anyone who wanted a website domain could get one registered, free of charge. Once businesses realized the type of impact websites and domains could have on their brand, there was a mad scramble to obtain the most influential domains. Building page authority and an online footprint was as simple as having the right domain, and building out page authority through an excessive amount of pages and backlinks. Sites would even work together, exchanging links to help build their sites DA.
In the early days of Google’s SERPs, inbound links were seen as an accurate indication of a page’s authority, expertise and relevance to a reader. Both the quality, but more importantly, the quantity of backlinks included in a page, were used to strengthen it’s authority and improve its ranking. The concept was a simple one, the cumulative page authority between all inbound links on a site was taken into account for relevance and ranking purposes. The concept of inbound links was greatly inspired by how authorship and citations work in the field of academia.
Google eventually came to the realization that putting so much stock into inbound links was flawing results for their users. Unlike academia, Google is a platform where anyone can publish content, regardless of expertise, accuracy or credentials. This meant the possibility of searchers not finding the best possible content for their inquiries. So, in 2005, the Jagger update was implemented to crack down on the issue of unnatural link building, paying for backlinks, and other types of spam.
Inbound links, if done properly, are still an important factor in a page and website’s SERP success. However, with the hope of improving user experience, Google’s algorithm changes and Search Quality Raters Guidelines have put a greater emphasis on other factors to determine how a page ranks.
Content Farms and Thin Content
In 2009, Google’s Caffeine update was implemented, it’s goal was to significantly improve the search engines speed and ability to index content. The problem that came with the Caffeine update was it opened the door to a flood of spam like content, specifically in the form of content farms. Content farms were created by businesses and their websites producing hundreds to thousands of low quality content pieces, targeting topics according to their current search value. At the time, because Google’s algorithms weighted quantity and regularly published content over quality, their content was being awarded on SERPs. This was a dangerous time in Google’s history, users were losing trust in the search engine, and there were no shortage of headlines promoting the major flaws in their algorithms.
The Panda Update was launched in February of 2011 as a response and solution to the issues of content farms and “thin” or “shallow” content. The algorithm change was released by Google with the following quote:
“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”
Not long after the algorithm had been implemented did it become apparent what types of sites and content took the biggest hit. Sites with inflated word counts, intrusive ads, inaccurate research, etc, were deemed unhelpful to users and were therefore penalized on SERPs.
The majority of updates Google has made since 2000 seem to have been made with the user in mind. The elimination of content farms and shallow content, the penalization of websites that didn’t use SSL properly, as well as, to a certain extent, allowing a brands’ website to be found under their branded keywords, have all been beneficial changes that have improved the user experience. Without these changes, the amount of spam and clutter on Google search results today would make the search engine unbearable to use.
The Medic Update
2018’s Medic/E-A-T Update was Google’s largest attempt to date in prioritizing Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness in content ranking. This meant that any content deemed to be from an expert, an authority on a subject, or a trustworthy source, would be given priority in SERPs. A can’t miss concept, right?
The reality is, as important as the “Medic/E-A-T Update” was to weed out irrelevant content for users, it has brought a whole new issue to the forefront.
Awarding sites with perceived Expertise, Authority, and Trust means that news platforms, review sites, social media and essentially any platform with a large following, are given precedence on Google’s search results. This may not sound like a bad thing, the issue is, Google empowers freedom of speech, without the means to police or determine if the “expert” content they’re awarding is factual or accurate.
Both businesses and individuals’ online reputations are being negatively impacted by inaccurate articles, slanderous blogs and fake reviews being featured so prominently on SERPs. With no policing mechanism in place, these “authoritative” platforms are enabling journalists, influencers and reviewers to say essentially whatever they want, and have it determine a person or business’s online reputation. That is why Reputation Management companies have become so integral in the lives of companies and individuals.
Protect Your Brand
Reputation Management offers the ability to curate one’s digital footprint through the removal of negative content and fake reviews while also building a strong online presence.
As important as the cut down on inbound link authority and spam content is to Google having a functional and user friendly search engine, the spread of fake, harmful and inaccurate content is still a major issue Google has not done enough to address. In fact the argument could be made that it has become even easier to ruin a person or business’s online reputation.
The impact of online defamation and the ease in which to spread it has never been higher. As Google undoubtedly continues to try and improve their user experience, those same users should be cognizant of how those changes have affected and will continue to affect their online reputations. Moreover, how to manage and protect their online reputations from fake or negative content.