No, Google Didn’t Manipulate Search for Hillary
By Danny Goodwin
It’s what many brands, businesses, and publishers dream of. Your video gets more than 20 million views, hundreds of thousands of shares across social media, mainstream news coverage, and tons of people linking to and visiting your site.
Just one problem. The site in question got its facts oh so wrong.
Such was the case for SourceFed, a pop culture site that mainly relies on YouTube videos as its means of sharing its brand of “news.” Its big hit was video titled, “Did Google manipulate search for Hillary?”
No. No Google didn’t.
The Hillary in question, of course, is Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
First off, hats off to SourceFed. They did a brilliant job with that attention-grabbing headline.
A title like that is pure red meat – especially if you’re a Clinton hater who has been conditioned to believe she is truly untrustworthy. Every Clinton hater will click on that, ready to see her proven guilty of, well, anything really. Likewise, every Clinton supporter would click on that, ready to defend her against the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
SourceFed’s seven-minute tour de false showed examples of how Google was “censoring” its search suggestions (Autocomplete) to favor Clinton. For example, typing [hillary Clinton cri] doesn’t return “criminal charges” as a search suggestion, but it will on Bing and Yahoo.
I won’t go through all that’s wrong with the video. After all, Outspoken Media CEO Rhea Drysdale did a brilliant job at that already.
Google also shot down the conspiracy thusly: “Google Autocomplete does not favor any candidate or cause. Claims to the contrary simply misunderstand how Autocomplete works. Our Autocomplete algorithm will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person’s name. More generally, our autocomplete predictions are produced based on a number of factors including the popularity of search terms.”
Here’s the thing: marketers are driven by data. You know, facts. Evidence.
What SourceFed did was make the evidence fit the assumption and then package it into sensational clickbait.
Are there any lessons in here for brands? Of course! Here are three.
- What’s Your Goal?
Whenever you create or publish content, make sure it has a purpose. Unless your only goal is traffic, marketing your junk content won’t lead to anything that matters – you know, things like leads, sales, and revenue.
Whether your content is designed to inspire, inform, educate, entertain, or sell,
the ultimate goal is to win the trust of consumers. While SourceFed may have had all the best intentions in the world, people have a low tolerance for crap – and the brands that publish it.
- Ignorance Is No Excuse
When posting the video, SourceFed wrote: “This is perhaps the biggest story we’ve ever reported.”
While SourceFed may have gotten the traffic, engagement, and links, it failed miserably where it mattered most. SourceFed got its biggest story wrong. And even the follow-up still showed a lack of transparency.
Don’t let your brand be the next SourceFed. When you mess up, admit it or correct it so everyone can move on. Most people are forgiving.
- Your Reputation Is Your Brand
As a marketer, it’s your goal to create content that will bias people so they’re more likely to visit your site and buy from you in the future. Except in a case like this, you can also bias people so they won’t visit you (forget about buying from you).
It’s true, facts aren’t quite as important as they once were for certain people these days. Many companies (and politicians) live by the motto “get attention now – and if you screw up, ask for forgiveness later” (or not).
Count me as one who has been biased to never click on or visit SourceFed again. I try my best not to support people, sites, or brands that contribute nothing but noise to an already noisy world.
It can take weeks, months, or even years to win consumers, but only seconds to lose them. Don’t let your reputation become toast.
Danny Goodwin has been a professional editor, writer, and ghostwriter in the marketing industry for 10 years, creating content for SMBs to global brands, spanning all things search and digital. He currently writes for Search Engine Journal, and formerly was managing editor for Momentology and editor for Search Engine Watch.