On June 8, 2019, an article hit InfoWars.com titled “Google De-Lists Alex Jones From Web Search“. The article explains that if you use Google to search for the phrase (name) Alex Jones, InfoWars.com is no longer a result near the top of page 1 of Google’s search results.
It is true that, historically, Infowars.com was indeed a top search result for the search “Alex Jones”. Now, at the time of this article, Infowars.com is ranking on page 2, position 6 in Google’s search results, the website displaying far below articles about him from other various sites around the web.
Infowars.com Hit By Google Algorithm Update:
On June 4, 2019, Google’s latest algorithm tweaks hit the web, shaking up search results. Google rolls out changes all the time, and a few times each year they roll out major updates which affect millions of websites. Google called this particular update the “June 2019 Core Update”, and I wrote about it here: The June 4 2019 Google Broad Core Algorithm Update. These major updates impact sites worldwide in nearly every niche, however, in the latest update, one of the most notable changes was the effect the algorithm had on news websites.
According to estimates from SEMrush, a tool I use to estimate a website’s traffic based on organic rankings and visibility, Infowars.com is almost definitely seeing a loss of traffic after the update. Not only is it ranking lower for “Alex Jones”, it is going to be ranking lower for pretty much everything. Here’s a screenshot of the impact:
Did Google Intentionally Target Alex Jones?
I have no way of knowing if Google intentionally targeted Alex Jones. After all, there was that confrontation between Sundar Pachai and Alex Jones not long ago. I can say that, to date, the algorithm appears to be free from manual manipulation. Yes, websites are occasionally penalized with something called a “manual action”, however, this occurs when sites are attempting to manipulate their position in Google’s search results, and that’s not what happened here.
Google’s CEO Sundar Pachai recently testified to congress that Google does not manipulate search results. That said, could the unconscious bias of Google engineers sway search results?
It is not just Infowars.
As mentioned above, the “June 2019 Core Update” affected many websites. Here are other news websites which were impacted. I am seeing sites on both the left and the right hit:
Reputation, News Websites, and Google’s Algo:
Quality raters cannot alter Google’s results directly. A rater marking a particular listing as low quality will not cause that page to be banned or lose ranking.
Instead, the data generated by quality raters is used to improve Google’s search algorithms, an automated system of ranking pages. Over time, that quality rater data might have an impact on low-quality pages that are spotted by raters, but the algorithm will also impact pages weren’t reviewed.
Some of us in the field of Search Engine Optimization pay close attention to the QRG when evaluating website visibility. While evaluating news websites is not my main area of expertise, I can tell you that the QRG mentions news websites often, and I can also tell you that websites which could be considered “low quality” by Quality Raters often suffer after an algoirthm refresh.Below are some specific sections from the QRG which could apply to Infowars:
Section 2.6.1 says “Use reputation research to find out what real users, as well as experts, think about a website.”
Section 2.6.2 says “News articles, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions, and ratings from independent organizations can all be sources of reputation information.”
The Wikipedia page for Alex Jones states that he is a conspiracy theorist, as do several other articles on the web. I am personally aware of one infamous statement he made which he later apologized for, however, I am not up to date on the current state of Infowars’ content. I am simply pointing out how Google’s Quality Raters evaluate content and news websites.
In section 7.5, Google describes giving the lowest quality website ratings to sites which have authors that spread conspiracy theories: “The content creators describe, repeat or spread conspiracy theories or demonstrably inaccurate content without a clear effort to debunk or correct it, regardless of whether the creators believe it to be true. For example, content creators may produce this content in order to make money or gain attention.”
What Do You Think?
Should search engines rely on sentiment from other sites around the web? Especially from other “trusted news organizations”, many of which are clearly biased?
Even if the Infowars.com website suffered algorithmically, should it still at least rank for “Alex Jones” (instead of news articles about him)?
Have you seen bias from Wikipedia contributors?
Do you know of other search terms Infowars has recently lost visibility for?
If you can answer any of these questions, please feel free to comment below.