What are the Google News & Google Discover Manual Action penalties?

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In February 2021, 12 new types of manual action penalties were released for violations in Google News and Google Discover, where previously manual actions only applied to Google Search violations.

What does this mean? Well for most content publishers hopefully not much because everyone should be following the guidelines to make sure they don’t violate them, but in broader terms it does mean that content in Google News and Google Discover is now subject to the same level of manual review as Google Search.

A note on manual action penalties.

Manual action penalties occur when a human reviewer at Google has determined that pages on your website are not compliant with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines. These differ from algorithm updates and are flagged in Google Search Console if they are issued. Most of these manual actions are issued for attempts to manipulate the search index, with pages reported in Google Search Console resulting in pages or sites being ranked lower or omitted from results.

These previously only applied to Google Search, but will now also be present for Google News and Google Discover results.

Google News & Google Discover manual penalties.

With 12 new manual action penalty types now in play, it’s important to understand what they are and how they apply to Google News and Google Discover. Some types will only apply to one or the other, whereas others will be applicable for both.

Google News penalty types.

There is only one new penalty type that is applicable to purely Google News listings, and this is a Transparency violation. This policy is all about making sure the content being served is trustworthy, and relies on things like author and publication information as well as article information like dates, and sources to understand whether the content being served can be trusted.

What does this mean?

You need to make sure your content is correctly marked up with structured data as well as making it clear to users and search engines where your information is coming from. If you operate in a YMYL sector, this should be second nature, but we’re expecting to see more of this come into play over the next few months.

Google Discover penalty types.

There are two new policy violations that apply specifically to Google Discover:

  1. Adult-themed content
  2. Misleading content

1. Adult-themed content

Adult-themed content violations are in place for websites or pages which contain nudity, sex acts, sexually suggestive activities or sexually explicit materials. It’s important to note that because this is a specific violation for Google Discover, it is unlikely to impact Google Search but pages that do not require this content (e.g. are not adult websites) should still make sure it is not included as standard.

What does this mean?

Although Google explicitly state in their guidelines that “medical or scientific terms related to human or sex education are generally permitted”, if you do operate in a medical space it is worth keeping a close eye on your content and it’s performance. For example, we’ve seen instances previously where social posts have been flagged for “adult content” when none is present – bugs like these should ring some alarm bells for webmasters and advertisers alike as if they can happen on Social platforms, they can probably happen on Search as well. Keep an eye on your content, make sure it adheres to guidelines, and continuously review the guidelines to make sure it stays up to standard.

2. Misleading content

Misleading content violations occur when the content does not accurately reflect why someone would click through to it – e.g. it doesn’t answer the query or is a heavily “click-bait” style article.

What does this mean?

Make sure the content you are serving your users accurately and correctly answers the queries that they are searching for. Research your content topics properly and understand the intent of the queries you’re writing content for before you publish it, and make sure your title and descriptions accurately reflect the content on the page.

Manual action penalties that affect both Google News and Google Discover.

There are nine new manual action penalties that are applicable to both Google News and Google Discover:

  1. Dangerous content – could directly facilitate serious and immediate harm to people or animals.
  2. Harassing content – harassment, bullying, or threatening content including that which might single someone out or expose private information of someone else.
  3. Hateful content – content that condones violence or has the primary purpose of inciting hate.
  4. Manipulated media – audio, video or image content that has been manipulated to deceive, defraud, or mislead.
  5. Medical content – any content that contradicts scientific or medical consensus and evidence-based practices.
  6. Sexually explicit content – explicit sexual imagery.
  7. Terrorist content – content which promotes terrorist or extremist acts.
  8. Violence and gore content – violent or gory content that is primarily intended to be shocking, sensational or gratuitous.
  9. Vulgar language and profanity – content containing obscenities or profanities.

The vast majority of these would also be applicable to Google Search and so should not be a surprise to webmasters or content creators that they are now included as part of the manual review for Google News and Google Discover content. However, two in particular stand out for us:

  1. Manipulated media
  2. Medical content

Both of these directly tie into Google’s focus on improving the trustworthiness of content across the web, from their investment into the Trust Project through to their own new Pinpoint platform which is specifically for journalists to improve the factual reporting and quality of journalism on the internet.

This added focus on trust as part of Google News and Google Discover shouldn’t be a surprise to publishers with campaigns over recent years specifically targeting and removing “fake news” from the web and social platforms, but it does mean you need to be taking more things into consideration when publishing content.

Manipulated media.

For “manipulated media”, we expect this to largely impact publishers and news websites, with each having to be able to prove the accuracy and trustworthiness of their sources. This is in a fight to reduce the spread of misinformation, with all media used in content needing to be able to be recognised as the original files or copies thereof, rather than specifically doctored or manipulated to fit a purpose.

However, we also expect to see an uptake from other websites with this now in play, with more and more websites making sure the content and media they are using to support their articles are well-sourced and sources referenced appropriately to add to the trust signals used by Google to assist with ranking performance.

What this does open up, though, is the risk that stock library media will become more common across smaller websites to still provide visuals for their content without having to research and locate media that passes the tests, even if that media would be more beneficial to the content. We know that media can assist with adding relevancy to content, so if more websites move towards stock content we may see websites with original, well-sourced media, be favoured in results while other websites using stock libraries see a proportionate decrease due to lesser relevancy.

Medical content.

For medical content, the part that interests us the most is “any content that contradicts scientific or medical consensus and evidence-based practices”. That means, essentially, anything that goes against the majority findings. So, if you are writing about treatments or symptoms, for example, you need to make sure the information you are including is commonly accepted by the medical industry. This could effectively “rule out” a lot of homeopathic remedies being included in content, as homeopathy is largely un-evidenced across the medical community.

We have already seen scrutiny on the medical industry ramp up over recent years, with the emergence of the “YMYL” phrase and webmasters in these spaces needing to make sure the content they are providing will not negatively impact the lives of their audiences. So, this move towards ensuring content in Google News and Google Discover is in line with medical and scientific consensus is another step towards Google ensuring that the content provided is both accurate and trusted, but also that it will not impact the health, wellbeing, or safety of readers.

We expect this to impact all websites operating in the medical space, whether they are online pharmacies or health insurance websites. To make sure content is in line with medical consensus, and that Google understands it as such, all references to treatments, symptoms, or anything that could be pertained as “advice” should be cited from a trusted source, e.g. well-respected medical resources and websites. This prevents Google from seeing your content as “opinion” even though it may be in line with the general consensus, and ensures that information on your website can be seen as trustworthy.

Where do we go next?

These new manual action penalties shouldn’t come as a surprise to most webmasters and content publishers, but what sticks out to us is that although medical content is specifically mentioned, there is no specific mention of financial content – one of the other big industries in the YMYL space.

We expect to see these manual action penalties expand over time to incorporate more and more guidelines and violations in an effort to ensure all content across Google News and Google Discover is held to the highest quality standards, both from a general journalism quality but also to a higher trust standard.

If you need help understanding what content is and isn’t working for you, or what you should be doing more of to generate the results you need, get in touch with our SEO team to book in an audit project.