Google – Goodbye “In the News”, Hello “Featured News”

Google – Goodbye “In the News”, Hello “Featured News” pixelwork

Google – Goodbye “In the News”, Hello “Featured News”

In October 2014, Google launched “In the News,” replacing its traditional vertical news results with a broader range of sources from around the web. Last week, Google's news results were shaken up again with the launch of "Top News," a carousel-style system of featured stories. Here is an example of a search for “John Glenn”:


Even the death of John Glenn somehow can't escape becoming a Trump story, but that's a topic for another time. What do we know about the change to Top Stories? Does this indicate a change in the way Google defines what is and is not news? Let's start with the data...


Vital statistics

The following data was captured on Friday, December 9 via a tracking set of 10,000 keywords. These keywords cover a wide range of categories. Before last week's changes, “In the News” fluctuated on a weekly cycle (peak mid-week), but occurred somewhere between 10-15% of the keywords we track daily:


As of Friday, “In the News” had fallen to less than 2% of searches in the crawl set, and “Top News” quickly rose to nearly 13% (in the same range as “In the News” previously). . None of the searches in our tracking set had “In the News” and “Top News” on the same results page. It seems clear that “Top News” is replacing all news searches, and we can expect “In the News” to be completely eliminated soon.

The new “Featured News” user interface has two different layouts. The card design as in the previous image with 78% of the “Featured News” results in our data set. The remaining 22% appeared in the list style:


Like the “In the News” package, the vertical version of the “Featured News” list can have from one to three news stories. The horizontal version has three stories in each example in our data set (1,011 in total).


The Editors

Who is making the news that is in the “Featured News”? In our tracking data set, we have recorded 3,605 URLs appearing in these news stories (some are duplicates, appearing in more than one search). Those 3,605 stories came from 1,319 different domains, suggesting that “Top News” is still testing a very broad set of sources.

These were the first 10 editors:

  1. com (2,1%)
  2. com (2.0%)
  3. com (1,7%)
  4. com (1.2%)
  5. com (1,0%)
  6. com (1.0%)
  7. com (1,0%)
  8. com (0.9%)
  9. com (0.9%)
  10. com (0.9%)

The top 10 sources accounted for nearly 13% of all stories, and the top 50 accounted for just under 25%. The top 10 generally represented reputable news sources, although you may think that is not a news source. Bankrate is showing up in commercial searches, like this one for “buy cars”:

In the context of that particular search, these are fairly reliable sources, but the search itself is not one we normally consider news. As with “In the News,” Google appears to be casting a wide net with “Top Stories.”


The news fakers

Given the recent interest in fake news, some people have speculated that “Featured News” is Google's attempt to address dubious news sources. “Google has been pretty quiet so far about the motivation behind this,” but my sources suggest this is primarily a UI design/change.

This argument is supported by the fact that “Top News” was extended with a broader redesign, including a new header and updated image result layouts and Twitter results. Additionally, it has been in testing in mobile search for a few months, prior to the desktop rollout.

Our data also suggests that the number of sources involved in “Featured News” is still very large. Is there any evidence for some of the most controversial news sources of 2016? A quick check shows a handful of “Top Stories” for, with searches ranging from “second amendment” to “Kellogg's”:


This is a bit of a gray area – while the story of the Kellogg's boycott is certainly relevant, and the Breitbart ad is the source of that boycott, many people would consider them too biased to cite as a source on this particular topic. Its inclusion suggests that Google is leveraging a wide range of sources for web results, without necessarily investigating the content of those sources.

Aside from politics, other clearly false sources are appearing. Look carefully at this set of three results in a search for “violin”:


Although I'm personally a fan of The Onion, I think it's safe to say that no one should consider the article in the third letter as real news. The second article, while certainly legitimate, is clearly an opinion piece. Our data set also includes a handful of articles from Here is one on the search for “lyme disease”:

I'm sure we're all relieved to know that our Christmas Trees aren't (probably) infested with disease-carrying ticks, but while Snopes has become a credible source for debunking bad information, it's certainly not a traditional news source. in the eyes of most people.


So what if it's news?

Google's job is not easy. The news is no longer something delivered to us on a 30-minute late-night television show, recapitulating the same world of hand-picked information for everyone. News is contextual and driven by the information we seek. For example, almost no one would consider a news source, but take a look at the following set of results:


These results appeared in a search for “3DS games” – in that context, a recent release on Nintendo's site is both timely and, in a broad sense, newsworthy. We don't expect a link to Nintendo when we look for news about the conflict in Syria, but in this context they are a good source.

While “Top Stories” may be primarily a design overhaul for now, they need to be able to deliver stories in any context, even when traditional, reputable news sources are not available (or, at least, when the reputation of those sources is unknown).

If Google sets the reputation threshold too high or restricts it to hand-selected sources, they will only be able to deliver recent news results to a very small set of searches. If they set it too low, then we will be inundated with fake news. We're still a long way from teaching a machine fact-checking, and Google has a difficult road ahead.

Source: MOZ Blog