Google Owl Update: What you Need to Know

Google’s latest quality improvements for Search have been live for a little while now. Here’s what we’ve seen, and everything you need to know on what - and why, they have made these recent changes.


Fake news! A very modern problem for search engines and social media platforms alike. Controlling the spread and circulation of false media is a relentless task. However, Google also has to contend with disturbing answers and offensive search suggestions too (think of those auto-filled results when you start typing a word in the search query box). So, what has Google done to help combat this current issue?

 Introducing: “Project Owl”. Named after the wise bird because… well, for no particular reason, according to the search giants. Project Owl is Google’s internal name for its latest Search quality update. A blog post by Ben Gomes, VP of Engineering on the Google blog opens with:

 “Today, in a world where tens of thousands of pages are coming online every minute of every day, there are new ways that people try to game the system. The most high profile of these issues is the phenomenon of “fake news,” where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information."

Clearly envisaging fake news and the spread of misinformation  as a long-term problem, Google have developed a three prong attack on Fake news and low quality search results, delivered through Project Owl.

 Google said: “Our algorithms help identify reliable sources from the hundreds of billions of pages in our index. However, it’s become very apparent that a small set of queries in our daily traffic (around 0.25 percent), have been returning offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for. To help prevent the spread of such content for this subset of queries, we’ve improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content.”


  • Algorithm Tweaks
  • New Search Quality Rater Guidelines
  • Direct Feedback Tools


Algorithm Tweaks

Google have tweaked the algorithms which focus on content quality to promote more authoritative content and demote low quality, specifically around misleading or offensive searches.

New Search Quality Rater Guidelines

Manual review is key to combating fake news. Yes, you read that correctly. Google have updated their quality rater guidelines to check against the algorithms work.

Direct Feedback Forms

Correct, multiple forms – Google have added two feedback mechanics to the SERPS so that we, the users, can help them clean up by reporting any offensive or inaccurate results. The forms have been added to autocomplete suggestions and featured snippets.

 Since the update a few questions have been posed to Google team members via Twitter which have provided additional insight into the project; so far Google have confirmed the following:

 New sites won’t have a tougher job ranking their content post the update

  • Big brands won’t be advantage over smaller when it comes to authoritative pages
  • They have no current plans to integrate feedback into the Google Chrome toolbar


It’s too soon to call. We’ll be keeping an eye out for the winners and losers. What we do know is that Google algorithm updates can bring a large amount of fluctuation to the SERPS. Previously the Panda update, indeed another animal theme, saw lots of unexpected movement. However, I believe that this

update will target publishers more than brands. Keep focusing on customer first, featuring relevant content and you’ll be just fine.

 Will the above fix the fake news problem? I doubt it can eliminate it,  but it will allow users the opportunity to tell Google when something is out of place, which is more than a step in the right direction.