Next time you do a Google search and the results include news stories, watch out: Some of the “news” might actually be press releases.
Google often includes an “In the news” sub-section in its search results, which presents a snippet from some of the top stories in Google News that relate to the story you’re curious about. For the past few months, however, Google has also been letting company statements appear prominently in this section too, reports Reuters.
Google quietly made the algorithm tweak last September.
Two recent examples, according to the Reuters report:
- SIM-card maker Gemalto was the subject of a hacking attempt by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Searching for the keyword “Gemalto” surfaced its press release on the matter within the “In the news” section.
- And earlier this week, a promotional site for Apple’s watch appeared in the “news” section too.
A Google spokesperson told Reuters:
“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 publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release.”
To some, this may seem perfectly reasonable on the surface; after all, surely a company should be able to have its voice heard on whatever bad things are being said about it.
But given the partiality of a company statement, it’s hard to argue that a press release is really “news” — and this could mislead casual readers and steer them away from more trusted, unbiased news sources.
What’s more, some companies may now be able to “game” the system by using search engine optimization techniques to try and force their own press releases into the “news” section.
Google has stressed, however, that it doesn’t take payment for including press releases or other promotional items within its “news” section.