The goal of a search engine is to objectively figure out what the best possible pieces of content are for any given search and serve those up to users in order of content quality. In the real world however, it’s not nearly that simple. Can a machine gauge “quality” as well as a human? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Can a machine gauge whether or not a piece of content is objective? Usually not. If there are two sides to the issue, the machine really can’t tell which stance you’re taking.
That’s why huge multinational companies, political lobbyists and even small time marketers have poured so much time and attention into influencing the search engines. The reality is that search engines can and are influenced by these efforts.
An Example: The Death Penalty
Let’s take the death penalty for example. On one hand, some people believe it’s a deterrent. On the other hand, others say the statistics don’t add up. On one hand, some people say “an eye for an eye.” On the other hand, some people preach forgiveness.
Who’s right? There are valid arguments to both sides. The search engine can’t tell which opinion is more “right” than the other. Instead, the search engine uses a special algorithm that calculates the value of links throughout the internet, combined with an algorithm for measuring the site’s quality.
This algorithm could easily produce an entire front page that’s pro-death penalty or pro-life. It’s not that the search engines are taking a stance; it’s just that all the ranking factors the search engines care about point in one direction.
That’s what political lobbyists often do: They try to get all the data the search engines look for to point in one direction.
They don’t try and boost any one particular site’s rankings. Instead, they look through the first few pages, select all the sites that promote their side of the story and help those sites get a boost in rankings. By doing so, they push off all the sites that take the other side of the stance.
SERM: Another Way That Search Engines Are Manipulated
Another increasingly popular way that search engines are manipulated is through search engine reputation management, or SERM for short.
SERM is the practice of protecting a brand from the negative image that comes from having bad items on the front page of the search results. For example, if you have a negative BBB report that’s on the front page of Google for your brand term, that’s probably going to cost you a lot of money over the long run.
SERM works by bumping up all the pieces of neutral or positive content around your brand and thus forcing down the negative items.
This practice can make a brand that’s otherwise unseemly seem quite legitimate. If only the praise for a company is sung while the complaints are buried, it’s only natural that they’ll seem to be more above board than they truly are.
How Marketers Influence Search Results
Finally, another big group of people who manipulate and influence search results are marketers.
These include fake reviews for physical and digital products. If you type in a product name plus the word “review” (for example, “Vitamix 5000 Review,”) you’ll get a page full of reviews. By and large these were done by marketers, trying to earn a commission by selling those products.
Another common tactic is for users to create sites specifically to rank for a certain search term. Marketers who don’t actually know the content as well as people in the industry but know SEO better can often outrank more useful websites.
These are all common examples of how the search engines can be manipulated. If you work with a large corporation or a political cause, it could be tempting to use some of these services to tilt the search engines your way.
If you’re considering it, just remember that the search engine’s goal is ultimately to reflect the true quality and nature of a product or brand. While you can cover up defects in the short run, eventually the truth will come out.
Focus on building a solid website and company first and influencing the search engines second.
Image Credits – bearvader