Fake news

We’re only a few months into 2017, but already, it seems that ‘fake news’ could be the phrase of the year. It started out as a catchphrase on Trump’s campaign trail, but it’s now morphed into a snap criticism of pretty much any kind of content. If someone finds your business blog to be lacking in authenticity, it could be flagged as fake news, along with some of the web’s least ethical publishers.

Fake newsFake news outperformed real news during the US presidential election. And we’re all potentially susceptible. Researchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education found that young people are surprisingly bad at picking out truth from lies.

That’s why Facebook is introducing tools that allow content to be flagged as ‘fake’ by users. This content is then passed on to humans for review, and content that is deemed inaccurate will be marked prominently with a banner in users’ timelines. There are also browser plugins that do the same thing. But fake news spreads because of the kneejerk reaction to share it, and it’s going to take time before social media users change their habits.

For bloggers, this means accuracy and authenticity will be more important than ever, lest they be caught up in the fake news debacle. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to elevate the quality of your content and make it distinct from fake news websites.

How is Fake News Defined?

Fake news articles are defined as ‘non-satirical news stories’, or good, old-fashioned hoaxes. Websites publish fake stories to generate large amounts of traffic, then earn money from the adverts embedded around them.

Fake news publishers are not alone in publishing stories for clicks. But during a time of heightened political tensions — such as a presidential election — fake news can also influence public opinion. One prominent example is Underground News Report, which has a long disclaimer paragraph in its footer. But to read the crucial part about its ‘satirical’ content, you’ll need to scroll past dozens of fake news stories about the Clintons, Trumps, and Obamas.

Worryingly, the longer the phrase ‘fake news’ is in use, the broader the definition seems to get. Trump has been quoted as saying that any poll that isn’t in his favour is fake news, and the phrase also been used as a badge of shame when journalists make a mistake in an otherwise factual report. It’s a messy situation, and one that businesses would do well to steer clear of.

Authenticity is Key in Blogging

Thankfully, there has been a marked improvement in the quality of content on the web over the last 5 years. In our experience, businesses are prepared to pay more for content than they used to, and they engage professional writers rather than paying for cheap content spinners that wreck your rankings.

But if journalists are struggling with credibility, this should be a warning sign to bloggers as well. There is another step change coming. And businesses that think that a blog is ‘just a blog’ are going to fall foul of it.

There’s nothing wrong with posting 500 words a week to market your products or services, but you need to invest some effort into those articles and really hammer out an authentic narrative. In an age of increased scrutiny and a need for better accuracy, this is an area that businesses need to work on urgently.

If you don’t have the resources to produce this kind of content in-house, you must outsource blog writing duties to an experienced writer; someone that is committed to fact-checking and producing high-quality content. This frees up your internal staff to do the jobs they really want to be doing.

Readers are increasingly demanding better blog posts anyway, so it’s a win-win for everyone when this happens.

5 Simple Ways to Improve Accuracy and Authenticity

Fake news can be amusing, but it can also cause genuine harm. In some cases, fake news is actually propaganda. Now, more than ever, it’s important to put a little more effort into your content.

1. Increase the length of your blog posts

It’s quite easy to waffle for 500 words and throw the result up as a blog post. This is what many fake news websites do. They know that it’s easy to fabricate breaking news stories, because people who read them want to be the first to share the post with their friends. These posts are also very short and easy to skim-read. As such, those fake posts go viral very quickly, which is why they are so profitable for the writers.

But it’s incredibly difficult to write 1,000+ words of fake content fast. And most fake news websites aren’t interested in producing anything like that kind of length. They just fire out short blogs as quickly as possible. This is a really key way to set yourself apart.

From today, aim to double the word count of the blogs you’re publishing so that you can explore topics in greater depth, and make your content look distinct from a typical fake news blog site. Yes: that means doubling your investment in blogging. But read on to find out how you can easily double its value, too.

2. Choose the Right Content Types

Do you know the difference between news posts and pillar content? Is your blog evergreen, or going stale within hours?

Choosing the right content types can help you to get more from your investment in blogging. A mixture of pillar and evergreen content, with some news and reviews, helps to cover all bases.

Additionally, we find that a thorough, data-driven blog post or ebook might cost two or three times the amount of a throwaway blog post. But it will far more traffic over time than a cheap, basic post, and is a much better use of your budget. For example, a post that I wrote here in 2011 is still the most popular post on the Red Robot website, and it draws at least twice the amount of traffic of the next most popular piece.

3. Keep Popular Posts Current and Accurate

If you want your old blog posts to pay dividends for years, you need to spend time revising them. A highly successful evergreen post can be thwarted by broken links, outdated research, or new strategies that supersede old advice.

Optimise your old blog posts to maintain their accuracy and give your whole blog added credibility.

This can also help you to squeeze longevity out of posts that would otherwise wither and die.

4. Back Up Claims With Real Sources

It’s important to back up claims in a blog with recognised, credible sources. Ideally, every claim should be linked. Look for research within the last year, and link to the primary source.

This is journalism 101, but bloggers are different animals. They sometimes link to sources that are disreputable, and this can contribute towards your site being included in a bad virtual neighbourhood.

So whenever your writer makes a claim, there should be a source, along with a natural link to that source. Hopefully, it goes without saying that the link should not go to a fake news website.

5. Always Name the Author

Clients still ask us whether blogs should be posted under a real name, a pen name, or the name of someone at their company.

Without exception, we recommend using someone’s real name (and you can use our writer’s name if they produced the content for you). Naming a real person helps to create authenticity and create a narrative. It also gives you the opportunity to add a byline for the author, which is one of the best ways to fend off accusations of hoax news.

Avoid posting blogs under your generic WordPress username (such as ‘admin’ or ‘xyzseocompany’). Not only does this look unprofessional, but exposing an admin username on a blog can increase the risk of a brute force hack.

Is Trust the New Click?

We live in an age of unprecedented access to information. In 2015, around 2 million blog posts were being uploaded to the internet every day. As long as there is money to be made from fake news, it will be published and consumed, because posts that go viral quickly tend to rise to the top of the pile.

Michael Kuntz, writing for NiemebLab, says that “trust is the new click”. Authenticity is important, and as Facebook and other platforms start to fish for fake news, you need to avoid being caught up in the net. The better your content, and the better your authority on a subject, the better chance you have of building trust with your readers.

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Claire Broadley

Technical writer, blogger, and editor at Red Robot Media
Claire Broadley is a freelance technical blogger for Red Robot Media. She works on technical and business blogs. If you'd like Claire to write for you, contact Red Robot Media now.
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