Google has a credibility problem. And those authoritative backed-by-lots-of-fact-checking news sites like The New York Times? They’re only making Google’s problems more difficult.

Searchers have long taken as a given that top-ranked search results are accurate, but as far as I know (which, at least for this topic, is quite a bit), Google’s ranking algorithms (for the regular web search “10 blue links”) have historically not included signals for accuracy. The signals were focused mostly on relevance and popularity. The unintended consequence has been that as bad ideas gain popularity, they rise in the search rankings, making them more visible to searchers who think top rankings are reserved for good ideas.

That’s changing now. Google said, recently for instance that “we want to show authoritative information.. we took deserved criticism after our Top Stories section carried misleading information after the Las Vegas shooting… we want to get this right…” (More on the Las Vegas shooting issue here.) And they’ve launched a collaboration with the Online Trust Project for Google News (which may eventually be used in regular web rankings as well if all goes well).

How News Organizations Influence Google Rankings

In another corner of the online information world, highly esteemed news sites are catching flak for elevating bad ideas and people. The news sites might argue they’re just covering relevant events, and not supporting, for instance, Nazis.

But possibly without realizing it, they’re often thwarting Google’s attempts to add credibility into the ranking signals mix. Or, rather, they — the credible news sites with a history over 150 years of reporting, investigation, and fact checking — are providing Google with an unintended credibility signal for terrible, dangerous, and inaccurate ideas and web sites.

Consider this recent example: On November 25, 2017, The New York Times profiled a person they described as a “white nationalist”. Nearly everybody was outraged that The Times would amplify that voice. Below are just a few responses.

But the article did more than just raise the visibility of the person, ideas, organizations, and web sites described in the article.

It also provided a link from The New York Times to some of said web sites. And links from reputable and credible sites is certainly something Google is looking at as a credibility signal for its ranking algorithms.

After all, Google uses links for all kinds of signals in its algorithms: for instance, popularity (how many links does a page have? are the links from popular sites?) and relevance (what is the topic of the linking site? what text is used in the link?).

It would make sense that as Google finds ways to mark a site as a legitimate news source, it also gives links from that site provide a credibility weight.

On Twitter, Michael Whitney noted that this profile included a link to a web site selling a swastika armband.

The New York Times seems to have removed that link, but as of now, a link still remains to a web site called “Radio Aryan”. And looking at the source code of the page, the link appears to be “followed”, which in Google speak means that the link has full weight in Google’s algorithms.

Google Credibility


Google Credibility and the NY Times

In other words, The New York Times not only elevated this person’s visibility amongst The Times‘ readers, it also gave this person’s writings and podcasts a boost in Google.

Not all news sites are linking in this way. I looked at a few sites that have been mentioned as a better way to profile Nazis, such as those below:

I did a very unscientific survey of these stories (the above and the ones mentioned in this Twitter thread) and found that some news sites do a great job of not linking to sites they don’t want to elevate, although even those don’t always link out to other news stories.

Linking to Hate Group (And Other) Sites Helps Those Sites Be More Visible in Google Searches

News sites are spending tons of time and money on providing credible information in today’s landscape of confusing and misleading information overload. But a simple and free and probably super impactful thing they can do? Stop linking to sites they don’t endorse. 

For instance, this ProPublica story mentions a white supremacist organization, but doesn’t link to the organization’s web site:

Same with this article from The Atlantic:

This Buzzfeed story references several Instagram and discussion forum posts, but includes only quotes and images, but no links to them.

And this Washington Post story links to a news article (from another publication) about a hate web site rather than to the site itself:

Two follow up stories show different news organization policies. The Washington Post seems to generally not link out to hate group sites and does link to other news organizations. For instance, in this follow up, they don’t link to the web site of the Traditionalist Worker Party, but do link to a New York Times story.

However, a USA Today follow up piece links to stories in several competing publications but also links to the hate group site.

If the reporter or news organization feels a link should be part of the story because it provides background or evidence, they can use a nofollow attribute for the link. When Google finds a link with a nofollow attribute, they don’t use the weight of that link in any of their ranking algorithms.

A nofollow attribute is easy. Instead of a link like this:

<a href=””>site I’m not vouching for</a>

Use a link like this:

<a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>site I’m not vouching for</a>

Nofollow attribute tags are often already built into the content management software newsrooms use, so it can be as easy as expanding policies around linking and letting those loading the content know how to use the tag.

If the issue were only about Nazis, it should be easy for newsrooms to put together policies, but of course it’s more complicated than that.

NPR linked to a flat earth site:

Mashable linked to a Reddit thread about the moon landing being a hoax:

At the very least, news organizations should be thoughtful about the link process and understand that linking to a hate group or a conspiracy theory site or sites with false information can help those sites to be more visible to searchers.

Linking Out to Credible News Sources With Descriptive Text Helps Those Stories Be More Visible in Google Searches

Another thing news sites can do to help credible and useful information gain search visibility? Link out to other news stories (even from competing publications!) using link anchor text that describes what the story is about.

This GQ article, for instance, has no links at all, when links to both The State article referenced and the Southern Poverty Law Center would help elevate both in Google searches.

(A long-held search engine optimization myth sometimes causes newsrooms to have policies to not link out to other sites, for fear that doing so will reduce the site’s “PageRank”, but it’s not true. Other times, newsrooms have policies not to link out for fear that readers will click away to the other site. But news organizations need to approach journalism from the standpoint of educating readers, not with fear of reduced page views.)

ProPublica does a good job of linking to other news stories, but could improve the descriptive text. For instance, in this story, rather than the text “recalled in an OC Weekly article”, the link could be placed in the quote section: “Trump supporters felt empowered to ridicule and intimidate me”.

That changed link placement would help the OC Weekly article rank for Google searches such as [trump supporters intimidate].

News Rooms Should Think About Their Impact in the Online Algorithm Ecosystem

It’s not enough anymore for news organizations to just think about the content of their reporting. We live in a world where we get our news from online algorithms, not the morning print newspaper. In addition to thinking about what information gets reported and how it’s covered, news organizations need to think about what sites and pages they’re linking to and how they’re linking to those pages.

Ideally, newsrooms should have policies around:

  • Not linking to sites and pages they don’t want to help become more visible in online algorithms, or using nofollow attributes on those links
  • Linking to sites and pages they do want to help boost visibility to
  • Using descriptive anchor text in links to help the linked to pages show up for relevant Google searches

It’s a little like the 1800s in my kitchen these days. If the 1800s had steam ovens and mixers and blenders and food processors. So, mostly similar.

Last year, we stopped eating animal products to help reduce our carbon footprint (a global transition to a low meat diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50%). Once we did that, we figured we should research the most healthful way to eat and ended up moving to a whole food, plant-based diet. As much as possible, we’re not eating processed food (which includes refined white flours, oil, sugar, and vegan hot dogs).

One day, I’ll write more (maybe even fill an entire separate site) about how we got here and how we’re doing it, but to answer the most common question we get: “What do you eat??!!”, the answer is that we’ve been amazed, actually, at the much wider variety of foods that we’re eating than ever before and how delicious it is. I don’t think we’ve ever enjoyed eating more.


It all takes a lot of time.

For sure there are ways to be efficient about it and tricks for eating out and bringing your lunch to work but until I have that hypothetical future site, here’s just a short list of things we make. It’s actually pretty zen. I mostly just put on a Michael Ian Black podcast and channel my inner 1800s. Although if you hear of a kickstarter for a robot like a Roomba but for cleaning your kitchen, let me know. This kind of cooking requires a lot of dishes.

One key for us is to have everything be organized and accessible. We use so many different kinds of flours and nuts and powders (flax, goji berries, hemp seeds, and the like) that hunting around all the time would not be zen at all.

Sauces and Condiments

I really like sauce. And since vegan mayo, sour cream, cream cheese, ranch dressing and the like are pretty processed (and mostly just oil in many cases), we just make our own (mostly from cashews and lemon juice, really) and they are DELICIOUS. For cashew or other nut-based sauces and milks, the instructions often specify the nuts should be soaked overnight. But you can also let them soak for about an hour in hot water.

We keep big jars of nuts right on the counter:

I find that the blender (we have a Vitamix) works better than the food processor for sauces as the final result is smoother.

Here’s a few of our go to sauces:

  • Sour cream – takes 5 minutes (combine nuts, lemon juice, and a few other things in the blender; nutritional yeast optional, but it takes great and adds lots of nutrients).
  • Cream cheese – this is a great butter replacement when making mashed potatoes! And is a great base for frosting, as you’ll see when I start talking about desserts. With the recipe I’ve linked to, I use a lot more lemon juice. You can also do one with yogurt (I use Nancy’s unsweetened soy yogurt, as it’s basically unprocessed and has no sugar).
  • The ranch dressing from this pizza recipe (see more on the pizza bel0w). When we make the pizza, we make lots of extra sauce.
  • Ricotta – this is from the lasagna recipe in the cookbook Vegan for Everybody (which is great). You basically just boil cauliflower and cashews until the cauliflower is tender and then blend it in a food processor with a little salt, pepper, and basil (we omit the oil).

You can find a ton more sauces, gravy, “cheese” sauces, and the like on my Pinterest ingredients board.


There’s all kinds of bread you can make. Most breads you can buy have sugar and oil and dairy or aren’t really whole grain and it can take as much time to read the labels as to just make your own damn bread.

Here are just a few. Some of these call for all-purpose flour, but I generally do a mix of whole wheat flour and some other kind of flour (like chickpea, quinoa, or brown rice) and then add a little gluten. We also sub the oil with apple sauce and generally omit the sugar entirely (or use a little date sugar).

  • pita bread
  • rolls
  • tortillas – super fast and delicious!
  • french bread – we always make a double batch and sometimes make these into hamburger buns
  • pizza dough – super quick and delicious; I quadrupled the last batch and froze some.


Look, I made these donuts the other day (although I didn’t have a donut pan so I just made cookie-style lumps covered in frosting; also I made them with cacao powder). I thought they were delicious. Maybe anything tastes good since I haven’t had a “real” donut in so long, I don’t know. But I was basically eating sweet potatoes, dates, and apples and seriously, I might make these again today and just have them for lunch.

Speaking of sweet potato frosting, here’s a chocolate cake recipe that is mostly beets, dates, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, bananas, and raspberries. (I swapped the maple syrup for whole dates, used cashew cream — see above — for the coconut cream, and skipped the psyllium.)

Regular Food

Here’s what we’ve been making lately:

Here’s dinner we had the other day with sloppy joe’s, mashed potatoes, and an avocado spinach salad:

I’ve got tons more on my Recipes Pinterest board.

Bonus tip: we eat avocados with basically everything. If you’re from California or someplace else where you might have known someone with an avocado tree in their yard, then you know how much better fresh avocados are from store bought ones. We order avocados every week from a farm in California. The two we use are Morro Creek Ranch and Fairview Orchards. (Fairview Orchards also has lemons and other citrus). You can often get dates from Local Harvest.

I’m writing this from the woods off the coast of Georgia. Outside, all I can see are stars. Well, mostly all I see is dark, but also stars through the gaps in the trees. The only sound is crickets. Which sounds like a lazy writing cliche, but in this case it’s actually all I hear. Like for real.

I’m also CEO of my search analytics software company, Keylime Toolbox. And I’m consulting with several companies. And doing a lot of speaking. And writing. And so on. You know. The usual.

To  borrow that annoying answer from every terrible job interview ever, working too much is both my greatest strength and biggest weakness. Which is a totally obnoxious thing to say, but no joke, my tendency is to wake up, drink a bunch of coffee, then get to work. Then eventually go to sleep at some point. Repeat. I barely see my friends. I never date. I manage to not starve by way of Amazon Fresh.

I never really thought this was a problem until a few years ago (becoming an oldie can do that to you, I guess). I started prioritizing sleep (which I just used to think of as a necessary evil and did as little of as possible, and now I realize is maybe the most important thing you can do to be healthy, grow old, and stay smart).  I took several months off and traveled the world. I tried lots of things, but balance eluded me. And sure, I know that balance is a mythical unicorn, but my nature is to throw myself full in headfirst to whatever I’m doing. So I can hard-core take time off. And I can hard-core work. But once I’m focused, it’s game on. Amazon Fresh it up and keep the coffee coming.


I decided to try a radical experiment.

Is it possible to do lots of great work but not do it 20 hours a day? That seemed unlikely so I introduced a forcing function.

Meet my forcing function:

I’ve set out across the United States, working as I go. Instead of waking up, then drinking coffee, then working, then sleeping, then doing it all again, I’m waking up, drinking coffee (obviously), then finding a local coffee shop or library or cafe or park. Then working. Or maybe waking up, firing up the generator to make some coffee in the middle of nowhere, and looking out on this while working:

I’m discovering cool little towns. Seeing friends that are scattered across the country. Learning about tech like cell boosters and wifi extenders. Taking truck stop showers (no, seriously; I am not saying this will help with the dating thing). Discovering cool museums. Launching software features. Leading workshops.

I can’t work 20 hours a day because at some point I have to find a place to stay for the night.

I bought a 2009 Roadtrek 170 popular, which is small enough to fit into a regular parking space, but large enough to have a bathroom and shower, full kitchen, double bed, and two different places I can set up an office. I can stay at an RV park with full electrical, water, sewer, and cable hookups or I can stay overnight, fully self-contained (including roof-mounted solar panels) in a Walmart parking lot.

I’ve been on the road for 11 weeks and have driven over seven thousand miles.

Is it working? Sort of. I still work a lot and still feel like I’m not working enough and still feel that anxiety of always being behind. But I also feel like I’m living my life now, and not waiting to live it.

Want to see where I head next? I’ve started a blog documenting the trip at Girl Meets Road. And of course, you can check out the cool stuff we’re launching at Keylime Toolbox. I might even start posting here more often!

And maybe I’ll be headed your way. Let me know where you are so I can add you to my GPS!

I don’t understand people who don’t drink coffee.

I don’t mean that I don’t understand them philosophically, like why are they against such an awesome beverage? I mean that I literally don’t understand how their bodies are physically capable of functioning. Telling me you don’t drink coffee is exactly the same as telling me you avoid oxygen.

I’m even baffled by people who can get out of bed and shower before they have a cup of coffee. And those people who have their first cup at the office. When I check into a hotel and find that the rooms don’t come with coffee makers and instead I’m supposed to somehow manage to put something presentable on my body, operate an elevator, and use the power of my mind to operate my legs and feet in a motion that enables me to walk across a lobby, I’m completely stumped. How exactly does one do that without already having had coffee?

The absolute only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is the knowledge that coffee will be in my body in less than two minutes. (A few months ago, when my doctor wanted me to take a blood test that required me to not eat or drink anything before, I seriously considered booking a hotel next to the lab because I wasn’t sure how I would be able to not only get out of bed, but drive the 15 minutes to the lab in the morning coffee-free.)

You can see then, how alarming it was to open the drawer where I keep my Nespresso capsules to find that I had just brewed my last one.

Normally I have several backup coffee makers (two Keurigs, a french press, a standard coffee machine), but my house is being remodeled so everything’s in storage while I temporarily live in another location. I’ve had to go minimal. Hence just the one Nespresso.

Nespresso coffee is OK. I’m not one those fanatics who thinks it’s the world’s greatest. But it is the world’s fastest. Get out of bed, manage to find the kitchen (mostly through blind luck), press one button. Coffee. Done.

I normally order the capsules from the Nespresso web site by the case (a packet of 10 capsules last me 2 days at most) well before my supply gets too low, but I’ve been traveling a lot and had somehow lost track.

I immediately went online and rush-shipped 100 capsules. In two days, all would be well with the world. But how to survive those two days? Surely I can buy Nespresso capsules someplace in Seattle, right? I searched [nespresso capsules seattle]. The Nespresso web site page came up. Put in my zip code, find coffee near me! Both Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table are just around the corner. Disaster averted.

That afternoon, I popped into William Sonoma, innocent, carefree, and oh so naive. I walked around. I saw the machines but no capsules. Someone behind the register asked if I needed help. Yes! I just need some Nespresso capsules.

“Oh,” she said (so casual! as if she were saying nothing ominous at all!). “We don’t sell them. We only sell the machines”

She saw the expression on my face.

I explained that surely she was mistaken. I had gone to the Nespresso web site and typed in my zip code and was sent right to this store. The promised land of coffee.

Then she explained.

Nespresso doesn’t sell their capsules in the United States. The only way one can get them, if one is not say, in Paris or Barcelona, is to order them from the web site.

She saw the new expression on my face.

I told her the tragic tale of the empty drawer. She immediately went into code red mode. “You already ordered from the site right? And you picked next day shipping, right?”

Yes, yes, of course yes.

But what about tomorrow?

“Wait here.”

And then she was gone.

Moments later she returned. William Sonoma has a few of these capsules, you see, so that potential customers of the machines can try the coffee. As the capsules tumbled from her hands to mine, I could feel the panic lifting.

“Thank you, thank you.”

In my head, I thought, I will always shop at William Sonoma at every possible  opportunity.

Here’s the thing. You can run Super Bowl ads or email marketing campaigns or engage in social media or merchandise your stores just right, but in the end, one employee can create a loyal customer for life or someone whose new hobby is building a hate web site in your honor. Flyers judge an airline by the helpfulness of the agents at the ticket counter. Travelers leave terrible Tripadvisor reviews for hotels that spent millions on remodeled rooms but nothing on front desk staff training.

Who’s the person responding to those social media inquiries, answering the customer service line, running the cash register? As you invest in new technologies, don’t forget to invest in people. And a well-stocked supply of coffee for emergencies (obviously).

Last week, I talked with a BBC reporter about a story she’s writing on the importance of networks for women (I’ll add the link when the article is published in a few weeks). I think this is an important issue, so I wanted to talk with her honestly, without any spin.

Who You Know

The reality is that of course who you know is important. Whether you’re looking for a job, employees, customers, funding, media coverage, or advice, more connections are always better. And it’s a virtuous cycle. Say you know someone great who is looking for a job. If someone else in your circle is looking to hire for that role, you make the connection, and you’ve paid back double.

Most networks grow organically. Let’s grab a drink after work. Who wants to watch the game? Men make up the majority of tech and of course know a lot of other men. When they make plans to have a scotch or watch some football, they mostly aren’t actively looking to exclude women. It just happens that way. And along the way, they trade advice, learn more about each others’ companies, and their networks grow.

Where does this leave women?

Certainly, women should be proactive and start their own organic networks. Some of the best support, advice, and referrals I’ve gotten have been from the women in my networks.

Women can also join what they consider the men’s networks. Mostly, men really don’t want to exclude women. They just aren’t thinking about balancing gender ratios when they get thirsty for a beer (I’m talking here about informal networks, not formal, structured ones, such as those organized by companies, when lack of thought about gender is both short-sighted and inexcusable).

During the interview, I mentioned that I occasionally attend regular poker games and I’m nearly always the only woman. I’m a really terrible poker player, but no one cares (in fact, they probably appreciate the easy money!). I’ve met lots of great people and always have a good time. Sometimes work stuff comes up; sometimes it doesn’t. The networking isn’t the point, but a happy side effect.

But Dudes Don’t Have Any Overlapping Interests With Women

I told the reporter that I think some women are hesitant to join these kinds of events because they worry they’re not really wanted or they’ll just get in the way. When you have a man who just got $6.5 million to launch a women’s web site being published in the New Yorker saying:

“I am a dude. I don’t have a lot of overlapping interests with most women my age. I’m really into history. I’m really into markets and finance.”


“Men, to the best of my knowledge, don’t even read. When’s the last time you heard a man say, ‘I’ve been reading this great book, you’d really like it’?

Then you could easily start to assume that men (as evidenced by that dude), media (as evidenced by the New Yorker giving that dude a voice), and venture capitalists (as evidenced by those who gave that dude money) at the very least think of women as having completely different interests than men (and certainly don’t expect to be hanging out with a group of people with such a lack of overlapping interests).

(Can’t help it, although surely obvious aside: the last time I heard a man say “I’ve been reading this great book, you’d really like it” was probably yesterday.)

And then you think, sure, I really want to walk into a room full of men who see me and think, there’s that woman with no overlapping interests, who doesn’t care about money or our world and only wants to talk about stupid books.

What If They Think I’m Just a Taker?

The BBC reporter I talked to also thought perhaps that some women think of going to these kinds of events as mercenary: that they’d be attending just to try to get something, and that would leave a bad taste. I agreed that no one should be hanging out with people they don’t enjoy spending time with, participating in activities they don’t like. My point, rather, was just that at this point in time, women are fewer than men in tech. And so focusing on only creating more women’s networks may not be enough. We also should turn (accidental) men’s networks into co-ed networks, and that may require us to take a leap of faith that we won’t show up someplace and be relegated to the women’s book club corner so the men can talk finance. I believe that most men aren’t like that dude. (The reason some women may be so hesitant to go to that poker game is that some men are in fact exactly like that dude, and we women know that from experience.)

Later, I was talking with a friend about the interview, and I mentioned how I just had an honest conversation, but since these types of articles have to surface only short sound bites from larger discussions, I’m now worried that I’ll come across as mercenary and in it only for what I can take from my fellow poker players. And that’s not what I was trying to say at all.

Which is one example of how complicated it all can be to talk about. But all of tech is better off if we can. Plus, maybe we all can get some good book recommendations.

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  • About Vanessa Fox

    Vanessa Fox
    I write and speak about the search engine industry and searcher behavior and help companies with online strategy and audience engagement. I'm fascinated by our searching culture and how it's shifted the way we seek out and consume information.

    In 2010, I wrote Marketing in the Age of Google, which I updated and released as a second edition in 2012.

    In 2008, I founded Nine By Blue and Blueprint Search Analytics, which I sold in 2013.

    I used to work at Google, where I built Webmaster Central and helped launch

    Now I'm CEO of Keylime Toolbox, software that generates online performance insights from Google Webmaster Tools, web analytics, and server logs for organizations of all sizes.

    I'm also traveling the United States in an RV, working from a different city every day.

  • Girl Meets Road

    I'm working from a different city every day, traveling the country in my Roadtrek 170. See where I am now at Girl Meets Road.
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