I intend to use the case of Malaysia Airline MH370 to depict how Google uses its freshness ranking and algorithm to impact search results. Firstly, my thoughts are with the passengers and crew of MH370, as well as their families and friends. Secondly, please accept my apologies if I have upset you, who may be related to Malaysia Airlines or involved in this incident one way or another.
On top of site/page quality and organic ranking, Google search algorithms have incorporated recent events/new and frequent updates into its ranking system to produce fresh and relevant results. In the case of Malaysia Airlines, the screenshot shows the first page of search results from the keywords of “Malaysia Airlines”. Other than the paid ads, Malaysia Airlines’ corporate site and Google+ page, the remaining results on the first page were all related to its most recent incident involving MH370. The MH370 incident was reported on most of the news sites including Reuters, CNN and TheGuardian, and it is probably one of the trending searches right now. (The screenshot was taken shortly after CNN posted its report.)
How does this freshness of searches affect businesses? For Malaysia Airlines, despite investing plenty of capital into digital marketing to improve its corporate site and social media sites’ organic ranking, has its first page of search being overwhelmed by recent news which may not be good for its branding and image (Malaysia Airlines is Malaysia’s national carrier, but has lost contact with its airliner carrying 239 people). Freshness in search results becomes a double-edged sword: Fresh owned/paid content and press releases may help improve spread of content and publicity of company, but negative content spreads equally quickly. Therefore, businesses have to manage the freshness right. Malaysia Airlines has actually released press statements about the incident on its corporate site and across all its social media platforms to manage the content released. However, its social media pages and corporate site news regarding the incident were no where on Google search results as the news sites had much better organic ranking, quality and viewership. Nonetheless, as freshness only provides temporary ranking spikes, Malaysia Airlines could have leveraged on the incident to post more authoritative content on its owned sites (to invite news sites to inbound-link to them), which will help improve its organic rank in the long run.