Who’s Finding You Online—and Are Internet Filter Bubbles Busting Your Search Results?

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by Scott de Fasselle
circle surround the words filter bubble

Don’t you love it when you find exactly what you were searching for—when the results are so personalized, it’s as if Google has been hanging out in your brain waiting for you to ask the question: What’s the closest Thai restaurant? Who’s the best plumber? Where can I find a web designer that will boost my search engine ranking. (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

The results you receive are close to home, and just the answer to your problems. How did Google, and others like Facebook, get so smart? Filter bubbles.

Every time you search for something on the Internet or “like” something on a social media, the Internet collects these searches and likes and compiles a “track record” of your activity. Using this information, Google, Facebook (and others) use specific filters to deliver information to you every time you search or spend time on social media.

That track record, so to speak, is the bubble. It’s all based on your Internet use history, which allows search engines and social media to filter the vast amount of information available online and deliver relevant results that will appeal to you.

Think about it: Google, Facebook and other sites track your interests. All of your searches and likes are compiled into your filter bubble: a conglomeration of your Internet history that helps these sites produce results that are highly personal. So, it’s no coincidence that the ad on your Facebook news feed is for the same product you searched for on eBay last week. And, ever wonder why you never see a status update from that old high school acquaintance? Well, when is the last time you Liked her status? Filter bubbles help you see the stories you enjoy so you’ll keep coming back.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper and address how these filter bubbles work.

The Bubble: Filters at Work

So, what are filters and where exactly is the “bubble?” Language and location are the two most basic filters Google and other sites use to deliver personalized results. If you are searching Google for an electrician and you speak English and live in Ohio, Google knows there’s no need to show you the link to a bilingual electrician in Texas.

There are many other factors that Google and others use to personalize results to you. All of these filters create a bubble around you. The information that filters deem important to you goes into the bubble; the rest stays outside of the bubble and does not show up in search results.

A simple way to think of different filter bubbles is to imagine President Obama and Rush Limbaugh Googling the same thing. Because they are different people they will have searched for different things in the past, which Google tracks and uses to filter the results of their current search. What we’re saying is, no two people will get the same search results, even if they search for the same thing.

Bursting Your Bubble: The Down Side to Super Filters

The negative of personalization and filter bubbles is that you will only see information that you like. Google is not going to challenge or disagree with you. (Its search results and what flows into your “bubble” are all based on algorithms.) It’s important to know, you’re only seeing one side of the story: Your side. When we are only surrounded by information and people we agree with, we miss opportunities to learn and grow.

Bubbles for Business: The Impact on Your Site

Now, you’re probably wondering how filter bubbles can benefit your business web site. Essentially, filter bubbles mean that when people type in keywords to search for a product or service you offer, some will find your web site via search results, and some will not. Remember, filter bubbles personalize information based on the user’s Internet history, their likes and all of the online places they’ve visited. There’s just no way to capture every prospect that uses the keywords you plant on your site. No two people are the same, so their search histories are different and their results (including your company, or not) will also vary. We know, this makes the science of search engine optimization quite tricky.

The Quest for No. 1: Ranking High on Google

You want to be No. 1 on Google’s search engine rankings—or at least, on the first page. Guess what? So does everyone else. Here’s the thing. There is no single “official” Google search results that guarantees you will appear first on page one in your area for everyone. Remember: different people, different search results. You just can’t be No. 1 all the time. It’s not possible.

Improving Your Odds: Optimizing Search Rank Status

So what should you do to ensure that your website appears on the first page of search results for as many people who Google as possible? This is a complicated question. A better question to ask is: How do the right people find my website? The answer: In the text of your website, write directly to the audience of people that you want to convert into customers, or those who are currently your clients/members.

Get ‘Liked’ on Facebook: Getting Followers to See Your Posts

First, if you only post promotional info and are incessantly trying to sell, STOP. Second, post the kind of interesting content you enjoy seeing on Facebook—photos, humor, helpful tips, inspiration, etc. Doing this makes it far more likely other people will enjoy and engage with you, which means Facebook will continue to show your content in your followers’ news feeds.

For Best Results: Speak Directly to the User

Filter bubbles have created an Internet where personalized information surrounds each individual. However, anything else that does not pass through the filters stays unknown and outside your personal bubble.

People at Google, Facebook, and around the web are working to improve how they deliver content that personally interests you. There’s also work being done to craft smarter and better ways of filtering information to remove the downsides of filter bubbles.

So what gives for your business website? It’s important to remember that not everyone will see your content. So, please have the courage to speak to those you need to speak to—avoid planting keywords all over your page in hopes of being Google Search Result No. 1. Tell visitors how your company can help them. Then, Google and Facebook will do their best to deliver customers and prospects to you.

Additional Resources:

Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles” – Watch the eight minute video of his speech at Ted 2011.
Eli literally wrote the book on “filter bubbles”.

MIT Technology Review: How to Burst the “Filter Bubble” that Protects Us from Opposing Views

Written by Scott de Fasselle

June 27th, 2014 at 3:10 pm

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