How Deep is Google’s Love?: Where the In-Depth Articles have Gone (and What it Means for You)

Recently, Google appears to have made a significant change to its search results page that eliminated several in-depth articles for many clients. We’ve taken a deeper dive into this development to see what it could mean for brands and high-profile individuals, and the PR professionals who work with them.

As you know, when searching for a brand or an individual, the Google search results page presents a variety of relevant content pieces and types of media to satisfy the query. Often this means a company’s own webpage will appear at the top, followed by third-party content such as Wikipedia and news sources. There may also be social media results (if an individual or brand actively maintains these platforms), along with image results or video content.

Several years ago, Google introduced a section within top search results they called “in-depth articles”. These results looked very similar to other search results, but came from longform media outlets like Variety, Rolling Stone, or The New York Times Magazine.  Often, they were a seminal article about the brand in question – articles that may have been placed by their PR teams.

Including these articles on the top results page seems to have been Google’s way of ensuring that a greater variety (and deeper) content would appear in this prime spot. Their inclusion, and the actual articles that appeared within that section, were governed by a different set of algorithms than most search results.

Recently, this section disappeared from all search pages for brands and executives. This happened without any announcement or acknowledgment on the part of Google.  It is important to note that in-depth articles for many brands and individuals contained negative content. At the same time, it was the place where particularly engaging longform journalism made its way onto the prime real estate of Google page 1 for a brand.

The ramifications of Google’s elimination of this section are yet to be seen, and their motivation can only be assumed to be “less intervention” following high profile criticism of potential bias in their  algorithms.

A whole host of interesting questions arise from Google’s move: What is the corporate (and civic) responsibility of those who hold the world’s data in their hands? Are there cases for intervention? Who decides what those are?

It is interesting to note that alongside this mysterious  disappearance, a recent Five Blocks study of CEO search results found there are far fewer news sites (sites such as CNN, CNBC, and others) on the first couple of pages of searches for a CEO compared to a year ago. In addition, those pages feature many more  profile sites, where one would find more dry facts (often created by the brand), and less news.

This marked difference in the presence of news within the organic results over the course of the past year, alongside the recent removal of the in-depth article section, means that page 1 of search for brands and individuals will contain far more“owned” content – i.e.: information they control.

For some brands this would appear to be a positive turn of events, but for many this trend means they will not automatically have great media pieces (which they often earned by being genuinely great) appear prominently in searches. It means they will need to work harder to deliberately ensure that the best third-party media does in fact place highly within their profile. Savvy communications teams will find ways to enhance their brands’ online presence within these brave new parameters.

— Sam Michelson, with Sara K. Eisen