For some people the personalization of their news apps and other content feeds online is a manual, conscious decision.
They want to be displayed certain topics due to their interests, which is completely understandable. Cut through the noise by making sure that you get given what you want.
For a lot of us, though, while personalization can make the considerable amount of time we spend scrolling through social feeds more entertaining, most of the automated personalization we encounter on a day-to-day basis is not necessarily requested – and is wider spread than one might initially think.
In a Ted talk, Eli Pariser discussed what he called the ‘filter bubble’. For those who have never heard of the filter bubble, it is a similar theory to that of ‘echo chambers’. Essentially, the focus of providing and consuming content that is closely aligned to your preferences results in the creation of a bubble or chamber, restricting your view of the wider picture.
As our internet ecosystem has evolved, we have shared increasing amounts of personal data with services we use every day, from social networks to search engines. They then use this data to tailor the content they provide us with to what they think will be most appealing, engaging or relevant. Google in particular has gradually increased the extent with which it tailors results to the user with innovations like Hummingbird and RankBrain, the inclusion of social results in search, and semantic search.
To many users this personalization of search results is helpful and convenient, but an increasing number of users are disturbed by the extent to which the sites they encounter are being shaped by forces outside of their control. If you are one of them, you may be wondering: How can you stop this from happening? How do you escape the filter bubble?
In this article, we are going to look at ways in which you can partially escape Google’s filter bubble, as well as how SEOs can penetrate it to make sure their sites are surfaced to as wide an audience as possible.
How do you escape Google’s filter bubble?
Disclaimer: If you want to be completely free of Google’s filter bubble, the only real way is to stop using Google. Know this, though – the rest of your treasured social feeds and news outlets will be no different, and who would want to stop using Google?
Do what you can to hide from the Big G
You can always log out of Gmail, delete your search history/browser cache and use an incognito browser (to prevent a level of browser caching). Again, though, you will not be completely free.
The filter bubble is not just specific to personal activity online; it also takes into personal factors that are not dictated by the individual such as device and location. You are also potentially not free of Google’s own internal bias, shown by their recent fine from the EU.
The outlook appears to be pretty bleak, huh? Well not entirely. Escaping Google’s filter bubble (and to an extent, all other platforms’ bubbles) is less about attempting to erase your internet history or privacy settings, and more about simply being aware of the bubble.
Awareness is critical
Take it upon yourself to find different sources and take an objective view. Let’s face it: echo chambers were around long before Google and Facebook. Newspapers have spent decades reporting the news with their own bias – you only need look at the differences in how The Independent and the Daily Mailprovide commentary for the goings on in the world to see this in action.
Depending on how conspiracy theory-led you are, you could argue that this pushing of agendas comes straight from the top at a government level. The point is that the most powerful tool for escaping Google’s filter bubble is one’s own awareness of the situation. If you are researching important information, don’t take everything as gospel and verse. Research, utilize multiple sources, and try to look at the situation objectively.
All of us are culprits, including myself. We use a single news app because it is the easy option, thus our echo chambers are somewhat self-inflicted. That is not to say that we should necessarily start to use Ask Jeeves, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo.
The point is that we should look deeper than the first results, and utilize alternate sources to investigate key topics.
How can SEOs penetrate Google’s filter bubble?
Whichever side of the fence you are when it comes to the personalization of content and its effect on our ability to have complete access to information, the Google filter bubble presents a predicament to SEOs and marketers alike.
Compared with the deeper moral arguments surrounding the Google filter bubble, it may seem somewhat trivial to discuss how SEOs can flog more of their wares via Google. However, the filter bubble has a real impact on both consumers’ lives and companies.
So how as SEOs do we penetrate it?
How specific are target search terms?
We did a test in the office here with three different individuals off two different devices each (mobile with wifi turned off, and laptop), all logged in to their Gmail accounts. We tested both broad and more specific search terms, and were not displayed different results.
This is not to say that the filter bubble does not exist, but it did get us thinking. Pariser’s Ted talk used the example of two individuals searching for ‘Egypt’ and being returned very different results. The issue here? Egypt is an incredibly broad search term and whilst SEOs may look to target ‘broader’ search terms within their strategy, the majority will have a very different view of ‘broad’ when compared with searching for ‘Egypt’.
We would bet that the data would show a less powerful filter as the searches become more and more specific, especially for more traditional transactional search terms harbored by SEOs.
Penetrating the bubble
One of the main issues of the filter bubble for SEOs is that it takes users down a self-fulfilling path: the more you engage with a certain website or topic, the more likely you are to be shown similar information. As such, penetrating the filter bubble is the number one priority.
A constant improvement in your site’s authority will help prevent your website being shut out of people’s filter bubbles, but alternate marketing channels should also be utilized:
Capitalize on highly shareable content to expand your degrees of separation and drive traffic to your website. You will be competing against each social platform’s own version of the filter bubble, but this is somewhat mitigated by the ability to share content.
Paid search and social
If the bubbles are proving too strong to penetrate, incorporating paid search (Adwords) and social media advertising will give you a foot in the door for new prospective customers.
Direct mail is often shunned by those of us that are dedicated to the Inbound Methodology but is another effective way of driving action from consumers. Use behavioural automation to take your campaigns to the next level and drive action.
Trust in the process
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here; what we are saying is nothing new. Trusting in the quality of your campaign and ensuring that you diversify the marketing channels that you employ should be part of the agenda regardless of filter bubbles. It might require a revisit of some of your core pillars but this is something that should be completed time to time anyway.
Really understand your buyer personas – these are the individuals who will become customers. Dig deeper into their drivers and satisfy their queries, questions and concerns. As always, value for the user is at the forefront of what we as SEOs should be providing.
Diversity of content and link building – again, no surprises here. Spread the net a little wider and assess how diverse the content is that you are providing. Is it too specific to a certain buyer persona and therefore somewhat neglecting other (also valuable) prospects?
Furthermore, high quality link building can gain you exposure on relevant sites, therefore widening the net further.
Keep people coming back
All of the above is great for your SEO campaign but don’t neglect the need to keep people coming back. The continual improvement of your user experience and a higher percentage of returning visitors will ensure that your users are furthering their own self-fulfilling Google filter bubble prophecy.
Combine this this with a widening diversity of content, and you put your website in a great place to mitigate the effects of the filter bubble.