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Google shares how it ranks news sources: Transparency is “a major factor”

“Our systems are designed to use these guiding principles… They help ensure we’re elevating content from trusted, authoritative sources.”

There are some surprises for publishers. For example, publishing pieces without bylines don’t affect the credibility of an otherwise authoritative source.

Google recently shared new details about how it ranks news sources, with transparency being a major factor. The search giant provided more information about how it evaluates transparency to determine which publishers to prioritize across its products, like Google News and the top stories carousel in search results.

Transparency is “an important element of Google’s news policies,” says Jen Granito, Search Product Manager at Google. “These policies help determine what’s eligible to appear on Google News and other News surfaces, and they help ensure we’re elevating content from trusted, authoritative sources.”

We’re sharing more about our transparency policy today because we want to help news sources understand the principles behind the policy and how to meet them in practice.

Jen Granito, Search Product Manager at Google

How news sources can build trust with their audience

According to the company, an important way news sources can build trust with their audience is by providing information about their articles and site. This includes information like 

  • clear dates and bylines
  • information about authors
  • the news source, company or network behind it, and 
  • contact information

This type of transparency helps ensure that readers can easily learn information about both the content they are reading, viewing, or listening to and the creators of that content.

Principles behind Google’s approach

“To determine what constitutes meaningful transparency from news sources, we consider what types of information an ordinary person might find helpful if they want to assess a site’s credibility,” Google states on its Search Central Blog. “This is strongly aligned with information we know is important based on academic research, journalism industry best practices, and our own user testing.”

In a diverse and evolving global news ecosystem, to ensure a transparency policy that is inclusive and responsive to industry changes, the company follows a set of principles to guide its approach:

  • Considering different regional and country-level expectations and practices around transparency. This is particularly important in areas with less press freedom where practices like naming a journalist can carry significant risk.
  • Looking at a number of inputs and considering a breadth of editorial practices. This helps ensure that distinctive editorial philosophies—for example, publishing pieces without bylines—don’t affect the credibility of an otherwise authoritative source.
  • Considering information that is clearly available to users, so that larger, more technically sophisticated sites and smaller sites that use simple text to convey information are on equal footing.

How these “guiding principles” are applied 

“Our systems are designed to use these guiding principles when assessing if a site adheres to our transparency policy,” says Jen. “At the article level, we consider information that helps users quickly gain context about articles or the journalists covering stories.”

This includes information like:

  • an article byline (that often links to author bio with credentials and expertise)
  • the article’s publishing date, and
  • labeling to indicate the article type (for example, Opinion or News)

At the site level, Google looks for information that helps readers understand a site’s purpose, its organizational structure, and the kinds of information they can expect from that site. 

This includes a breadth of information such as: 

  • a mission statement
  • editorial policies and standards
  • staff information and bios for both editorial and business staff
  • non-generic contact information, and
  • other organizational-level information like owners and/or funding sources (for example, state-sponsorship, relationship to political parties or PACs).

Google concludes its post with a note about how it is fine-tuning its approach, taking into consideration various differences — e.g.,  in local norms and editorial philosophies — and sharing a commitment to help publishers get more recognition for their work.

Transparency requires a thoughtful approach that is attuned to differences in local norms, editorial philosophies, and resources, as well as being dynamic and reflective of evolving standards. We hope our commitment here and to all our news policies helps people around the world stay better informed about the news, and helps news sources be recognized for their work.

Jen Granito, Search Product Manager at Google