Search Engines & Opinions: Just How Trustworthy Are Search Results?

Whether it’s on Google or Bing, websites want to rank in the top positions on search engine result pages (SERPs) and watch the free traffic roll in. However, the traffic isn’t nearly as powerful as the effect search results have on public opinion.

People use search engines when they want to have an informed opinion. If various sources seem to agree on a conclusion, it must be the truth. Even the press takes less time to fact check.

Search engines can be a real time saver. But just how trustworthy are search results?

Lobby for Nuclear Power

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Nobody seems to want a nuclear power plant in their back yard, but what are the real risks? And what is more environmentally friendly: a nuclear plant with the radiation half-life of its nuclear waste or a coal plant with its carbon dioxide emissions and the need for natural resources?

Comparing all pros and cons probably won’t give a clear winner. Public opinion often dictates the chosen path. Influencing public opinion can be very lucrative for the companies involved and they increasingly resort to search engine optimization (SEO) to aid their cause.

There are probably many reputable sources for and against any claim you would like to make. Depending on whom you work for, you either boost results with nuclear accidents, the risk of terrorism, and the clean storage of carbon dioxide, or you emphasize how clean nuclear power is compared to coal.

Images and video results are very effective in influencing people. The first glance at title and description combinations of conventional search results is even more important than the information on the resulting page itself.

Boosting External Sources

seo-puppet-masterGoogle’s algorithms for various types of search results (including images, video, local results and others) use a combination of item characteristics and external references to determine ranking. If you need to boost the ranking of information on an external website you can either try to improve the textual relevance and focus (often requires cooperation) or you can promote those pages on other websites.

Influencing rankings can be done in a totally decent fashion, but the SEO companies hired by lobby groups, multi-nationals, politicians, and countries, for example, collect and trade link value (mainly by creating and buying sites) as some sort of online commodity. These are then able to direct that link value at anything they please.

To create a desired top 10, you browse past the first results and select the ones you want to boost onto the first page. You then direct all the required links at these pages to improve their ranking.

Need a temporary boost amid other newsworthy results? The most effective strategy is to attract social media links. As long as natural behavior is mimicked, relevance and the amount of links aren’t always important.

Search Engine Reputation Management

Negative search results can make one tiny mistake in the past hurt you for the rest of your life. That’s why companies like British Petroleum take a lot of effort in cleaning their online slate.

SERM, or search engine reputation management, implies that there is a way to control your branded search results to keep away negative results. Promoting positive reviews of your company and its services on other websites is the best way to perform SERM.

Having multiple strong domains with relevant pages in your top-10 can make it harder for additional pages to enter. External boosts can provide some assurance, but hypes can temporarily rank higher and combating these is too labor intensive for most companies.

Biased Search Results

Lobby groups in U.S. elections have discovered the power of search engines. Powerful groups hire the best SEOs and create great examples of biased results. If you look very carefully you can even discover how manipulated results influence media coverage.

As you can imagine, a search for “second amendment” shows nothing on the yearly death toll; there seems to be an effective lobby against “farm subsidies”; and images for “animal testing” leave nothing to the imagination.

The power of search is becoming extremely influential. Especially when no one seems to question the results search engines provide. Maybe it’s about time Larry Page or Eric Schmidt to run for office?

Search Engine Marketing Services

Many SEM firms offer services around this topic. These range from “cleansing” (pushing undesired results down) and “protecting” (making it hard to rank for branded search terms and putting contingency plans in place) to “steering” (influencing research queries for media and public opinion) and “dominating” (controlling the big picture across all related search queries and result types).

It might be very tempting to use these services, but beware of a possible backfire. Using tricks to clean your slate often has the opposite effect. Lose your bad habits first and only fix the results that keep hunting you unjustified.

Try to fully embrace the power of search, but use it wisely.