Search engines manipulate your thinking

Do you think you are making objective decisions each day when you are using the web? Think again; you are being manipulated.

"SEARCH" key on keyboard (find ok go online web engine)

New research suggests we believe what the search engines provide, not reckoning that the results may be biased or inaccurate in any way. And, it turns out that we tend to believe what we are provided by the search engines, using the information to impact upon our opinions and our views.

In other words, Google is controlling your mind.

This was demonstrated recently in a neat study looking at voting intentions in the general election in India. The researchers provided people with one of three alternative search engine results, each of which was biased towards a particular political party. Over 99% of the people viewing those search results pages appear to have trusted them, not brining them into question or considering that the results might not be “true”. Even though the search engine results had been deliberately manipulated in favour of one political outcome, the participants accepted the search results as factual.

Furthermore just over 12% of people had their views swayed as a result of the search engine listing – even though that listing was biased. In other words, people are influenced in their opinion as a result of the search engine results they see. In the Indian general election, this would be enough to change the outcome of the vote.

Even though the persuasiveness of search engine results is comparatively low, what this study confirms is the notion that we all believe what is presented to be the current state of affairs on a topic, the factual position.

Yet, even something as brilliant as Google has flaws. Indeed, if it didn’t have problems and issues how come they would be adapting and changing their famous algorithm constantly? If the search results were the perfect state of play on any topic, then there would be no need for search engine companies to alter what they do. Neither would there be any need for the courts to intervene to force Google to change what it presents in the search results. Clearly search results are merely a starting point, a potential set of pages which might or might not be useful or valuable.

However, if you are a website owner you are up against a problem. People are accepting Google’s search results as “fact” not just a potential set of pages which might or might be useful.

That means you need to ensure your website is high up the search results, but also that your competitors are low down. Indeed, if people are believing that a search results page is the factual state of play, then as much of that first page as possible needs to be about your business. That means concentrating on SEO alone is not enough; you need to dominate what Google can come up with by ensuring you do what Google says is good practice, such as constantly adding new content. But it is also about doing other things which help you increase your web footprint – such as adding your content to other websites, being active in social networks and using multimedia such as video on YouTube.

Search results appear to be influential beyond their actual real value. Hence anyone in business needs to dominate those results pages in order to benefit from that influence. Getting your website to Number One on Google is no longer good enough. This study implies you now have to dominate.

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