Project Owl: Google’s Attempt to Clean Out Offensive Information in SERPs

Aimee Beck
3 min readMay 26, 2017

Until recently, Google has displayed links to information relative the search query — no matter how offensive the information may be. And they’ve taken serious backlash for it. For example, the search giant has been seen returning white supremacy sites in return for Holocaust queries. While I have no desire to read ignorant, offensive material, I’m not sure it’s Google’s job to police the Internet. I mean really, where is the line drawn between excluding offensive content from search results and downright censorship?

I’m not entirely sure. But Google is making some algorithmic changes in response to all the negative press. Three major changes, in fact:

  1. Auto-Complete

When you start to type a keyword phrase into Google’s search bar, you’ll see a list of suggestions, like this:

Now Google offers users a away to “report inappropriate predictions”:

Which triggers a popup where you can select the prediction you found offensive and tell Google why you’re labelling it as such:

You can even go so far as to legally request that certain information be removed from the results all together:

  1. Feedback

The second way Google is giving users a chance to provide feedback on potentially inappropriate search results is via the “Feedback” link below the “People also ask” feature.

When you click “Feedback” a popup appears where you can, you guessed it, provide feedback:

  1. Authority

The third change coming from Project Owl is about authority. Google says it will now give more weight to what it considers “Authoritative” sites. Sounds a bit subjective to me, but we’ll see how it works. Basically, Google has hired actual people to review and rate the quality of sites. They then report back to Google with their findings, which are supposed to help train the algorithms to identify and eliminate offensive content, leaving more room for “authoritative” content up top in the rankings.

It’s not a perfect system, but then, what is? Props to Google for making the effort to clean up the garbage and make way for legit information. According to Danny Sullivan, “They [the reporting forms] can certainly allow individual users to feel that they’ve got an easier way to tell Google when it’s going wrong. The search quality changes, if they work, will be even more important. Still, despite all that Google tries, it knows it won’t solve the problem perfectly.”

We’ll keep our eyes on Project Owl as it scours the Interwebs to search and destroy offensive material. Let us know if you’re seeing any movement as a result of Project Owl. I’m curious to see what kind of ripple effect this will cause.



Aimee Beck

Independent Content Marketing Manager | SEO/UX Copywriter | Editor. Let me breathe new life into your web pages, blog posts and email campaigns. Email me today!