The way Google selects what shows up in the “In the news” section of its search results has changed to allow company statements to join genuine media reports.
Reuters reported the change in policy, which has actually been in effect since September. A Google spokesperson told the news organization:
“The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible – that may mean returning an article from an established published or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release.”
That probably sounds entirely reasonable at first glance, but just consider the case of Gemalto, the Franco-Dutch SIM card manufacturer, which was at the heart of a story about suspected hacking by GCHQ and the NSA.
As Reuters highlights, the company’s press release – which seriously downplayed the story – topped Google’s “in the news” section above media reports.
While Google says it does not and will not take money from companies to help them get placed in the news box, it’s prime real estate. You can expect to see businesses using all kinds of SEO tricks in an attempt to make sure their take on the latest developments is front and centre.
There’s also clearly major potential for readers to be misled into thinking they are actually reading a news story and not a press announcement crafted by the company in question.