The internet has made it both one of the best and worst times to be a journalist. Online distribution means that anyone with a computer and internet access can publish news articles. However, the increased competition makes it harder for journalists and news organizations to make enough money to support their writing efforts. Last week, Google announced a change to the way its algorithm works so that it rewards original reporting.
One of the issues with modern, online journalism is that it's easy for people to duplicate the work of others. If someone writes an article that gains a lot of attention, there will be dozens of copycat pieces that use the information the original writer researched. These new articles can drown out the original piece if they have better-written headlines, the site has a larger audience, or the site uses a better SEO strategy. Google's latest algorithm change will ameliorate this problem by ensuring the original post gets the most SEO benefit.
In a post explaining the change, Google wrote, "Recently, we've made ranking updates and published changes to our search rater guidelines to help us better recognize original reporting, surface it more prominently in Search and ensure it stays there longer. This means readers interested in the latest news can find the story that started it all, and publishers can benefit from having their original reporting more widely seen."
Though the policy change sounds straightforward, there are some nuances that should be noted. As Google notes in their announcement, there isn't a single definition for what is original reporting. Many news stories evolve throughout the day, with new reporters uncovering additional information that becomes part of the larger narrative around an event. For example, let's assume that Article A talks about an event, then Article B talks about the same event but adds quotes from participants. In this scenario, both articles could be considered original content and Article A may get less exposure than Article B.
Google stated, "There is no absolute definition of original reporting, nor is there an absolute standard for establishing how original a given article is. It can mean different things to different newsrooms and publishers at different times, so our efforts will constantly evolve as we work to understand the life cycle of a story."
This change in policy should be good for writers, website owners, and consumers. It reduces the appeal of "churnalism" where writers rewrite the work of others without making any significant contribution. This means there will be fewer duplicated articles in search results. The system rewards also original reporting, which encourages writers to find some way to add substance to the things they write about. If all goes as planned, both readers and writers get a better experience.
In its updated guidelines for raters, Google instructs its raters to use the highest rating, "very high quality," for original news reporting. In section 5.1 of these guidelines, Google defines original reporting as something "that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it. Original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort."
For more information about recent updates and changes to Google, read this article on new rules for Google My Business accounts that list their service area in the profile.