CreativityStrategy & Marketing

Is Google Censoring Christian Content?

Recently, it was reported that Google’s search function would begin focusing on “facts” rather than “opinion.”  This caused a small explosion among Christian content creators concerned that if Google considered Christianity simply a myth, they would move it to the opinion side, thereby lowering any Christian sites in search results.  So I asked Nick Runyon, from Christian Vision to weigh in.  Nick runs the U.S. office for CV, and was formerly Chief Operating Officer of Global Media Outreach, so he has extensive credentials when it comes to online innovation.  I asked him to write a guest blog on the subject, and here’s Nick’s thoughts on the issue:

In an effort to avoid “misinformation” a Google research team recently presented the idea that the company’s search algorithm should serve search results based on facts rather than opinion. Some would argue that matters of faith are one’s own opinion. But, for those with a Christian worldview, the claims of Christ are truth. If Google follows through with this change, will Christian content suddenly disappear from view?

Change is constant, and one must anticipate change rather than fear it. The threat to those who create and publish Christian content online is the failure to understand the reason for the changes impacting content delivery and adjust accordingly. The responsibility to distribute content lies with those who produce it. Getting your stuff seen means that you have to know how to play the game.  Here are three tips to help you stay on top of the wave of change when dealing with Google, Social Media and other online media channels:

Learn

User experience is key. Online services live and die by user behavior. If the users leave, so do the profits. Social media can be a great way to promote your brand, but Facebook isn’t interested in building your website or profile. They are building their own company. If you use Facebook to promote your content by directing people away from Facebook and onto your site, don’t be surprised when a change is made that cuts the number of visitors to your fan page. You were working against Facebook, not with them. Hey, it was good while it lasted!

Learn what motivates the company you’re using to distribute your message. Find a way to accomplish your goals, while fitting into their strategy.

Listen

Remember, change is constant. This means that the learning never stops. If Google begins giving priority to sites designed for mobile users, make sure that your site provides a good mobile experience. If you produce video, make sure it plays well on a variety of screen sizes. Keep listening, and keep learning. The website or blog where you learned information to help understand the motivation of your favorite social network’s user strategy will help you listen for upcoming changes to that strategy. When a change is coming, you’ll know and you can act purposefully rather than get caught off guard.

Measure Outcomes not Signals

A few years ago I was asked to help a well known ministry drive results through their website. My first question was, “What outcome do you want?” This team was measuring the number of visitors to the page, visitor time on site, and other important user signals. But, what they really wanted was for people follow Christ. The problem was nothing on the site talked about who Jesus is or how to follow Jesus. When I pointed this out, I was told that they didn’t want to come off as “too pushy” with the Gospel. No danger of that!

What is most important to you and your organization? Are you achieving that outcome through your activity? Online strategies should be measured by the outcome one wants to achieve. Jumping into the newest social media app without a plan isn’t adapting to change; its a waste of time. Stay focused. In the midst of all of this change, don’t loose sight of the outcome you’re trying to achieve.

Now, more than ever, the world can be reached with the Gospel. Christians must know and understand how companies/sites/services like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat operate and make decisions. We must keep market pace with production quality, user experience and measuring outcomes. We must act purposefully to take advantage of changes in online content delivery. Stay focused. God has placed believers in this point in history, and provided an incredible opportunity to share the hope and love of Jesus with the world.

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What do you think?  Are you still concerned about the “facts” versus “opinion” strategy?  Or does Nick’s thinking make sense to you?  I’d love to know your thoughts…

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7 Comments

  1. In terms of the spiritual battle we are in, nothing has changed. It is just starting to affect contemporary mediums of communication and this is to be expected. The question since the beginning has been, “What is truth (fact)? “Surely you will not die? said the snake to Eve. Google searches and Facebook algorithms are now being influenced by the same spiritual forces that have already infected sitcom producers and newspaper publishers.
    The online “world” will determine the ultimate direction of SEO searches but the good news is that Jesus is the Truth and He has overcome the world, both off and online.

  2. Phil, the point I make with many clients is that Google are a business with a primary goal of selling advertising. They do it by having the market share of volume of searches conducted globally. They have the audience and they want to keep it that way. When we check Google’s motivations in terms of selling more advertising they will always have two priorities.

    1. GREAT RESULTS: For Google to maintain their position they have to deliver the search results people are looking for. To deliver the best organic search results they mine millions of web pages to deliver your top 10 results on page 1 by steadily improving their search algorithm looking for new ways to identify credible content. If you as a user on any topic from chocolate cake recipes, to digital camera reviews find you have to keep digging to page 4 before you find what you want as a consumer then you may decide to leave Google and check out Bing or Yahoo. That’s a business disaster to Google whether you’re a humanist, atheist or Christian.

    2. BLOCK THE RUBBISH: For Google to hold the front on great search results they also want to fine tune their search algorithm to block those who try to manipulate their results with what is known as ‘black hat seo’. The days of filling your page or meta data with words from some dictionary or product catalogue are gone. The people who waste money buying domain names with their product names in the domain name are helping pay the domain registries and no one else. To Google’s credit they are moving to block ‘tactics’ and concentrate on ‘content’. Alongside this they are also moving to reward fast and mobile sites and potentially devalue results that give users a bad mobile or slow experience.

    While Google can check your page for around 150 pieces of information to form an SEO score the move is strongly towards finding ‘relevant’ content. For my clients I emphasise relevancy as both ‘fresh’ and ‘aligned’. If its new its relevant’ If its on topic, its ‘relevant’.

    Building on Nick’s guest post, I heard a great comment once that SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the ‘New Evangelism’. If a person in your community goes hunting for ‘Divorce Lawyers XYZ Town’, does your church or ministry’s marriage counselling course come up in the results. And in the same way Nick calls us to look at outcomes on your website, don’t allow your SERP (Search Engine Results Page) display to be generic, engage and call people to action in the way your website is presented on a Google search page.

    Great topic! Keep the conversation going.

  3. I asked my friend John Carley at Trinet Solutions (trinetsolutions.com) about the issue. Here’s his reply:

    “Yes, some Google employees started this process not too long ago. Ultimately it does mean, over time, Christian content may be not incorporated as much in their indexing as it has been.

    – Technically their version of “facts” are an interpretation of what facts are in the first place. Opinions or observations backed up by others or other sources that they can find on the web

    – A version of Artificial Intelligence, which is racing ahead, will probably be involved in this or even replace this over time

    – Christian content that may stick around longer is content that is well references, with many footnotes and links to credentialed “experts” with some influential academics

    – Using Google+ will help Google keep this content in a slightly higher priority if others are plus-ing it.

    – Some of the few topics in the future that might only be found via Google about Christian content, might be pseudo-scientific information like aliens, conspiracies, ghosts, etc. (which happens to be the second largest search market after sex)

    – Truth will be inevitably suppressed.

    – Christian content will still remain on Christian websites, but you’d have to know to actually go there, vs. most people using search to find it now and in the future.”

  4. Phil, I concur with John’s comment “Christian content that may stick around longer is content that is well references, with many footnotes and links to credentialed “experts” with some influential academics” but I’m not convinced that overall this is a conspiracy to remove Christian content.

    The web is full of noise. There is obviously the crackpot ‘set’ and as in my previous comment where one of Google’s objectives is to block rubbish they do it to help remove clutter to get a user to trusted content.

    This methodology may actually also help get users to more traditional trusted Christian sources of information and data over fringe/opinion pieces. For instance if someone searches for “Where did Jesus die?” Will they find articles on Golgotha, the Cross, or a fringe piece about his life where he lived ‘with his wife and children in India’.

    Here’s praying for online clarity in sync with Holy Spirit guidance.

    The paper produced by Google staff can be read here with some examples. http://arxiv.org/pdf/1502.03519v1.pdf

  5. Let’s “+1” a lot more. That should probably keep sites within their algorithm’s parameters. Try to link back to Google (or a Google site) from your sites as much as possible. If our sites are generating traffic to Google’s sites, we should be OK, I guess.

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