As Twitter bans political ads this past November, and Google/YouTube reexamine borderline content while limiting ad-targeting to age, gender, and zip code, the online political climate is getting increasingly more competitive and controversial in 2020. Content generators and political campaigns will try to capture audiences, lobby agendas and discuss political topics in various channels.
Recently, Google, Twitter, and Facebook have all been in the news to address bias, fake news, and questionable subject matter. They are continuing to penalize the more egregiously misleading ads and actors with specific algorithm changes to procure more politically correct players and results in feeds and listings for their users.
As the 2020 election draws closer, digital marketers will need to stay on top of following better editorial standards and message-straightforwardness with citations to better substantiate a social media feed presence or overall SERP visibility worthiness.
Here are a few case-in-point examples where penalizations have occurred (and can continue):
Clickbait Examples from Around the Web
Everyone has seen sensational and overstated news headlines on their social media feeds. These articles are efforts to drive clicks rather than clearly state facts. Facebook and other big tech brands have been writing algorithms to diminish their appearance on feeds and listings, while various content generation platforms struggle to appear in a very crowded social space. The algorithmic efforts to diminish them have started becoming visible beyond social inside the organic channel where click-through behaviors and quick page bounces can drive a site’s overall trustworthiness and authority signals downward. A few clickbait-ey content curators observed are:
Clickbait Example No. 1: DailyMail.co.uk
Daily Mail’s traffic, once reaching over 50 million unique monthly organic visits and over 1 million known backlinks has seen their impressions and shared links decline. Updates to various algorithms, both in Facebook and Google have sent this popular news website in a downward trajectory, due to bad design practices with their ad-space and slow page-loads. However, the more significant reason is attributed to having 3.2 million landing pages, many of which are postings exaggerating beyond actual facts. Even with that many pages, only 35% of the site traffic is search-driven, showing how severely they depend on waning social media support.
Clickbait Example No. 2: Telegraph.co.uk
Telegraph.co.uk is currently showing traffic down 35 percent from the start of the year, (according to Spyfu.com) and Alexa is reporting a bounce rate of 76.6 percent against a competitor rate closer to 56.6 percent. The keywords falling off of page one aren’t keeping up well enough with the keywords they are reaching for.
Load times for landing pages reached are bad and ad presence appears overwhelming to page content at times. This, along with lesser link visibility would suggest that both Facebook and Google have taken some action for their design and tactics around content which has been exacerbating the impressions organically.
Here is an example of an ‘info-withhold’ clickbait posting Telegraph is known for.
Clickbait Example No. 3: Mashable
Mashable is another site that shows traffic down 20-30 percent from the year, beginning with 1.67 visits per user, a 77 percent bounce rate, and noticeably fewer backlinks discovered around the web by Majestic crawler.
They have a track record of using a lot of ‘info-withhold’ clickbait, and have a slower than average site experience, making them a typical target of what various algorithm updates this year have penalized around expertise and trust.
The example above is what a common Mashable posting would conceal in a Facebook feed post.
Clickbait Example No. 4: NYPost
NYPost’s organic traffic from the start of the year is down 25 percent with overall traffic down 15 percent. They too are a common offender of creating copy that withold details initially or write cryptically to entice clicks, not just in social media postings, but in much of their article titles and headings for search results as well.
Alexa reports that search traffic is just 30 percent of overall website traffic, suggesting they need to tread cautiously with the amount of traffic they are getting from referring social media postings.
- Avoid bad editorial headings that withhold topic details to entice clicks (i.e. “Local Reporter corners Congressperson and you won’t believe what happened!”)
- Stay away from sensationalistic headings that speculate, over-simplify or fear-monger (i.e. “Is it time to cash out? Investors say the stock market’s bottom is about to fall out!”)
- Be upfront about topic and story focus in headlines/anchors (i.e. “Congressperson dodges questions about the government shutdown”)
- Be succinct rather than outrageous to entice clicks (i.e. “3 simple investment strategies for young investors”)
Borderline Content Evaluations
Since 2015, but especially in 2019, Google has been increasing various controls and safeguards in how it understands and provides subject matter that is newsworthy, monetizable, and all-age safe, rather than content that is potentially extreme, adult in nature, conspiratorial, or can seemingly upset sensitive viewerships.
It has informed the public that these algorithm updates are formulated carefully, with extensive testing from “human content evaluators” and area experts from around the U.S., assigned to provide inputs into machine learning systems to “gradually” affect the experience these updates aim to achieve. Google provided a YouTube timeline infographic showing that especially in 2019, an eye toward subject matter credibility and appropriateness on YouTube was a new major priority. It even released a Google blog post about how “borderline content” is now being seen 70 percent less by non-subscribers.
YouTube is taking into consideration free-speech ramifications and the fact that much of its users seek out the edgy and fringe-related content on their platform. As a result, YouTube ranking factors are going to continue changing in 2020. Bannings and inappropriate content flaggings (even temporary ban hiccups) have and will occur where YouTube creators see their content scrubbed from YouTube’s index.
However, the base metrics to determining a video’s quality will remain relatively the same and related to; video popularity/amount watched in relation to subscribership versus non-subscribership data, language/verbiage spoken, channel size, video feedback/commentary/saves, and other personalizations captured from a user search preferences and history.
Updates prior to 2019 were more focused on the internal search results factors, but 2019 re-evaluated video guidelines that would populate for the video suggestions and autoplay feature results after a video is selected to ensure nothing questionable, fringe, profane, conspiratorial, or entirely unrelated populates as well.
Fleshing out borderline/quality content updates didn’t just remain inside YouTube’s algorithm either. The July 17 “Maverick” update was a very large Google update that mostly impacted News, Sports, and Entertainment niches and took into consideration de-ranking poorly substantiated articles, and also search result listings that are gray-ish/slightly adult in nature and stripping out the majority of adult-related results for them. These types of safeguards and user protections are going to continue to grow in 2020 as more news sites push for exposure.
Borderline Content Evaluation Summary:
- Re-enforce a piece’s news-worthiness and article factualness with citations, cross-linked corroborations, authorship signals, and depth of the subject matter.
- Police the language, imagery, and site-themes for its age-appropriateness.
- Don’t conspiracy theorize, especially without any real substantiation involved.
- Avoid blending sexual- or adult-related themes/category silos into a site or channel trying to rank for other non-sexually charged terms.
- Publishing profanity, offensive and/or derisive language, or extreme political positions (whether sarcastic, ironic, or intentional) can trigger additional algorithmic ranking formulas that can penalize and obscure published content.
Content creators will continue to push the envelope in 2020. However, with smarter algorithm updates, Google will likely do a better job at making sure its users get the content it’s seeking, instead of getting bombarded by clickbait and other articles of questionable quality.