In as much as we detest being lied to, one thing we can all agree on is that fake news spread like a conflagration.
Exacerbated by social media, the practise of dressing up false information to reach a broader audience has become so prevalent – and marketers have valuable lessons to draw from that.
What’s Fake News
“Fake News’ is a buzzword that describes the news that readers don’t either agree with or believe in. It’s neither backed up by facts nor supported by credible cues and legitimate sources.
Yet, it’s an incredibly effective way to generate traffic and amplify your desired message.
Let’s dissect this to find out why it works, and if there are any non-shady ways marketers can leverage the strategy.
The History of “Fake News”
Boastful dissimulators and made-up facts didn’t start with Trump, as some people love to assume. They have been with us for hundreds of years.
Its history stretches as far back as the onset of the free press.
In 63 B.C, the Roman emperor Augustus Octavian orchestrated a falsehood campaign to propagate news of his victory against Marc Anthony during the Roman Republic War.
Also, in 1991, it would be rumoured that the body of Vladimir Lenin was being auctioned off for a minimum of 15 million dollars. This infuriated the Russian Government, forcing the Forbes’ editor to come forward and admit it was all a hoax.
There are so many prime examples of fake news stories spread throughout our human history.
Google’s History with Fake News
After briefly examining a few examples of fake news in human history, let’s narrow down to how they tie down to Google.
Google has always eyed news stories. They have for long wanted to provide it to the general public, even during its fledgling days. You were to query a topic, and they would provide a range of news stories listed in their “News” section.
It was one of the most valuable informational tools that added to their credibility and increased their level of trustworthiness in the public eye.
Then came 2014, and they saw it fit to advance their news system. So, what did they do?
They started to pull news articles from various news sources, including Facebook and Reddit. Sadly, things didn’t go as planned. So, this strategy ended up failing terribly on them.
For one, the internet had grown into what can be best described as an open forum. Anyone with a story was free to publish it, and even promote it on social media. You can now imagine the kind of stories that made to their “News” section.
Realising their mistake, Google rushed to fix this error by first turning their “News” section to “Top Stories.” They never mentioned their primary motivation for this change, but it’s all common sense.
Does Google Filter Out Fake Stories?
There has been a rising debate on whether Google and Facebook should start filtering out fake stories?
Of course, a fake news story appearing at the top of the SERPs can cause serious damages. So, how does Google intervene in a situation like this?
You have to remember that Google is nothing more than an algorithm, driven by user actions and a series of authoritative measurements, including backlinks.
Therefore, it has to stay neutral. And if they decide to meddle into stories, then they risk coming off as biased.
Keep in mind that there are two sides to every story – and the truth is always subjective.
So, should Google install a few measures to control fake stories?
Of course, yes. In fact, they recently took this constructive criticism and decided to set advanced measures that seek to guard users against fake news.
What Could Motivate Google?
Let’s get one thing clear – Google isn’t a charitable organisation but a business. They’re more motivated by money, with everything else coming in second.
To make money, they’ll need ad clicks – and to get these clicks, they’ll need traffic.
Going further, to get traffic, they must first work on inspiring trust.
So, yes Google might take an interest in filtering out fake news because they need public trust to gain traffic, which translates to more clicks for their ads.
In this dimension, Google had to take a series of important actions.
They’ll start by adding a fact-checking system to their search engines, specifically to their news section. In which case, only vetted (read: reputable) news sources made it to their News section.
They would also add a “Fact Check” label dedicated to identifying disputed claims in some regions. The entire system was created to improve user knowledge and awareness, while simultaneously giving the News section more credibility.
Secondly, they organised a crackdown on fake news sources. While outrightly lying or publishing a controversial article doesn’t violate any of Google’s policies and standards, spammy, low-quality content does.
Will Google Penalise You for Fake News
The thought of being slapped with a Google penalty is enough to make anyone shudder.
It’s also true that Google has flagged and even penalised so many fake news sites. Just linking to any of these fake news sources or any spam or low-authority site is enough to ruin your company’s reputation.
So, this isn’t a risk anyone would want to take.
Also, the last thing you want is for your site to be associated with any fake news story.
It’s far unlikely that getting linked to one fake news story wouldn’t ruin your reputation or get your entire site penalised, but better safe than never. You want your site to be associated with the best, high-relevance, and high-accuracy content the internet can provide.
Why Fake News Work
The uncomfortable truth about fake news is that it works, and here are the supporting reasons:
Anyone Can Start Them
Anyone can publish a fake story. All you need is a digital device and you’re free to hit the internet and publish it. You can even promote it and grow a following, regardless of what information you’re publishing. There’s always a ready audience for it.
Has One of the Hungriest Consumers
People love fake stories. They’re always ready for it.
Fake news featuring celebrities and famous brands are a profitable way to get your products in front of the right group of customers. It’s a practise that’s sleazy and deceptive, but incredibly effective at exposing your product to a wider audience – even more effective than sending out the spam emails that automatically get you blocked.
It’s True, If It’s Published
You’ll be surprised by the number of people that believe in these stories.
One reason for this is because deep down we all wish them to be true.
You can start by working on authenticity and trust before you can go forth with the original publication. Your goal should be to create a tribe or a group of people with similar interests.
They Generate the Desired Response
Some fake stories go unnoticed.
When a story is so sensational, people tend to get carried away emotionally to even question its authenticity or accuracy.
The last thing you want is for your website to be associated with any fake news site. If it occurs, it’s important to remove it immediately before it damages your company’s reputation or places you on the wrong side of search engines.
So, how do you remove them?
First, you’re to conduct a backlink analysis to determine whether or not any fake news or spammy site is pointing back to your site. There are so many backlink profiling tools to help you out with this. A simple trick would be to look at the domain authority of all the sites linking back to you.
Identify all the sites you suspect might be a problem to you. The next thing you want to do is reach out to these sites and ask them politely if they can help you remove the links.
However, if the webmaster in question refuses to corporate, then perhaps you should consider disavowing the links. Remember: you’re not to misuse this tool and only use it as a last resort.
What Lessons Can We Draw from Fake News Stories?
Don’t get it wrong: we’re not advocating for or advising anyone to use fake news as a marketing tool. But admittedly, there are a few valuable lessons that we can draw from the said fake news.
Yes, we do admire certain aspects of it – starting with the fact that they’re incredibly popular and shareable. And as we know, popular and shareable is good for SEO.
So, what does that teach us:
Timeliness and Relevance: Fake stories aren’t popular because they revolve around popular figures and events. They’re popular because they’re timely. That’s the lesson to draw from all this. Many of the fake stories we read are written on popular political candidates and major events. That’s the secret to writing trendy content. You want to go with what’s relevant by focusing on current events, at least to a certain degree. While evergreen content promises you longevity, trendy content can help you with visibility.
Learn to Target Emotions: The main reason fake news spread like they do is that they evoke human emotions. That doesn’t necessarily imply that you should capitalise on fear or give false hope. But you can leverage heightened emotions to communicate your marketing message in a way that strikes a chord with so many people.
Start Targeting a Niche Demographic: Fake news isn’t written for everybody, but a tiny segment of the population. Whether it’s conspiracy enthusiasts or people affiliated with a particular political party, fake news is always written to a group of people that can best relate to the story.
Embrace Your Tribe: That demands that you understand your audience pretty well. You have to understand their fear, their drive, their ambitions in life, and most importantly, what makes them tick. Go beyond what products or services they might be interested in, and instead learn to think like them. What are they expecting from you: well-being, security, humour?
Publish Frequently: How frequently should you be publishing?
There are no standard rules for this, but we would say, as frequently as it’s possible for your brand and bandwidth.
Also, it’s not about how often you publish, but what you publish. Quantity should never come at the expense of quality.
With every publication that you make, you have to make sure your content is unique, entertaining, and useful to the reader.
Remember to ask yourself, “can this content be found elsewhere?” or “has the audience been exposed to this type of content before.”
Above All, You Want to be Authentic and Accurate: fake news sites are authentic in their messaging, but not quite accurate in reporting.
Keep in mind that learning from someone or a thing doesn’t always imply stepping on to their exact footsteps.
You can learn from their mistakes as well.
In which case, you should know the negative impact inaccurate reporting has on your company’s reputation – and consequently, make sure your content reflects your true value.
Here’s what a new study (by Label Insight) has to say about transparency:
- 94% of customers admit to being loyal to brands that they think are 100% transparent about their operations.
- Close to 75% of customers say they don’t mind paying more for a product provided it’s transparent
The two study findings sum everything up. You can’t be transparent and fake. By being transparent means you’re being brutally honest about dishing out the details of how a particular product is made or operation is run.
How the Future of Trustworthiness Looks Like
Google is more than an algorithm. It’s a big learning machine that keeps getting better by the day.
Google has been always been updating their system. On March 28th, they decided to introduce new quality raters guidelines that allow users to manually rate information. With these options, users can help Google spot inaccurate information in the SERPs.
5 Ways Fake News Site Can Help You Improve SEO
As we said, we can only learn from fake news and use some of the lessons we draw from it to improve SEO.
Strive for Authentic and Factually Accurate Content: Let’s call it like it is, fake news is bad. No serious marketer would even dare touch it with a 10-foot pole. So, whether you’re creating on-site or off-site content, it’s important to prioritise accuracy and quality. You have to let quality take precedence.
Hyperlink Third-party sources to Prove Your Accuracy: To get the coveted “fact check” label, you’ll have to first prove that your content is factually accurate. That includes linking your content to incredible external sources to confirm everything you’re saying. These sources are to help you confirm your claims with hard, objective pieces of evidence.
Avoid Linking to Fake News Sites: Not every link is the same. An inbound link from a fake news site will eventually work against you. So, instead of rejoicing every time you find a new link, spare a few minutes to analyse them and make sure they’re not coming from a spammy or fake news site.
Use Schema Micro-formatting to Increase Visibility: Schema micro-formatting will help you identify real news stories on your website, and the likelihood of you appearing on Google News results. It will also help you earn the “fact check” label.
Get Links from High-authority Sources: The bulk of the links you get should be from high-authority sources. There more links you earn from high-authority sources, the more your trustworthiness increases. You’re to first identify trusted blogs around you and build a publisher relationship with them. Then as time goes, you can reach out and ask them if they’re okay with the idea of you guest blogging with them.