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Duration
30-60 minutes
Topic(s)
  • Current Events
  • Journalism
Grade(s)
  • 7-12

  1. Tell students that today they’ll be learning about how content creators can use techniques and tricks to push their content higher up in your search results, even if it doesn’t necessarily deserve to get the top spot. (Tell them this is not the same as clickbait, the practice of using sensational or misleading headlines or photos with the intent of getting people to click on the link.) Ask them if they’ve ever gotten back search results that didn’t seem particularly helpful or relevant or if they’ve wondered how sites try to control their search rankings. Discuss their experiences and/or questions.
  2. Divide students into small groups and distribute the Content Competition worksheet. The groups should have access to either a simple publishing tool (such as Google Docs) or blank paper and markers. Give the groups 5-8 minutes to change up the story in ways that they think will make it more appealing. Have each group present their finished stories and debate which ones they think are the most successful.
  3. Explain that in a similar but often much less visible way, online content creators have a number of things they can do to try and make their content move up the search ranks and get seen by more people. Watch the “Search Boosters” explainer video and review the accompanying tipsheet graphic.
  4. Look back at your students’ altered stories and see if you can identify any of the search booster tactics already in play. (Language and layout are the most likely to be there.) Talk through how the other tactics might apply to these stories for example, what sites would they link their stories to? Or where would they advertise to direct more attention to their story?
  5. Tell them they’re now going to apply their knowledge of search boosters to a real-life example. Give the students access to the News or Noise? Media Map (suggested events: Hurricane Harvey, National Walkout Day or Pokémon Go) and have them complete the Search Boosters worksheet either individually or in small groups. (If accessing the map is problematic, you can print a selection of media examples from the map for students to choose from.)
  6. When students have completed the worksheet, discuss their answers and process. Then use the questions below to continue the conversation.

 

  • Is it possible to spot content that has used these techniques? Which ones are easier/harder to recognize in daily life?
  • Which of these techniques or tactics do you think are the most/least effective? The most/least fair? The easiest/hardest to implement?
  • Do you think search engines should work to make it harder to “game the system” and boost content up the rankings? Why or why not?
  • When you see a link high in your search results, do you assume it is trustworthy? Why or why not?
  • How do you decide which results to click on when you do a search? Make a list of what you look for and compare/contrast your criteria to the search boosters.

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