Truth and SEO in the Age of Google

Using Google to look for information is so ubiquitous that we use the brand name as a verb. This is why any search engine optimization service worth its salt focuses on Google rankings. According to Smart Insights, about 75% of all web searches in 2018 were done through the Google engine. With usage like this, it’s no surprise that people trust the web giant.

However, for all its market share and customer trust, Google isn’t always accurate. In fact, the way the search engine’s algorithms are written, results are sorted by popularity and not accuracy. When the distinction is important, this can result in some unfortunate outcomes.


Andreas Ekström on How Google Works

The educator Andreas Ekström gave a seminal TED Talk in 2015 that illuminates how human bias can affect the algorithm behind Google searches.

In the talk, he discusses how Google is seen as accurate and unbiased. By design, this cannot be true. Google sorts search results using popularity as a major factor. Additionally, the systems themselves are made by people, and all of us have underlying biases.

Ekström also explains that in order to match your image to what appears on the Google results page, the pictures need to be labelled properly. For instance, if you have an image of an apple, you would caption it “Apple” on your web page and name the file “apple.jpeg” to ensure that no one searching for oranges finds that image. This is the part of the system that’s easily tricked, however, and it takes human intervention to change it.

In one case, the folks who monitor Google changed the algorithm to remove pictures from their image search when they were an attack on a public figure. In another, two years later, they declined to do so. It matters greatly that the former was a racist attack against Michelle Obama and the latter an act of protest against mass murderer Anders Breivik, but these were still human calls.


Humans and the Internet

Google is working on improving its algorithm every day to try and ensure that accuracy and popularity are more closely linked. However, people who stand to gain from the dissemination of disinformation will always attempt to game the system.

In fact, everything that an algorithm determines is a human call, as humans wrote those scripts. The key to being a good SEO company becomes understanding the humanity behind the search engine and optimizing how our clients operate within this system.

At Chattanooga Web Design, our goal is not to game the system by tricking it, but using truth and accuracy to cut through the algorithms’ biases. We want to use popularity and truth to ensure that our partners are represented well in internet searches.

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