Is Search A Lie? Can You Really Believe Google?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on February 8, 2008

I sat next to a a guy I’ve know for years from a major public relations/media relations firm at the World Economic Forum in Davos two weeks ago and he told me how his company manipulated search to improve the image of its clients. It was a harrowing conversation that I’m sharing here because it opens up a whole host of issues and problems concerning the truthfulness of search in general and the authenticity of Google search in particular.

This guys PR firm—and all major PR firms—monitor Google and the blogosphere in general for any online negativity among blogs, websites, and media stories on their clients that pop up in search. The PR firm then spends money to create what I would call fake blogs, websites, and stories that are positive about their clients. The goal is to change the ratio of negative/positive mentions on the web in general and in Google search in particular.

And this PR firm is very successful at manipulating search, he said. All the PR firms are successful at creating "independent" blogs and sites that spin out positive news and images about clients.

So I ask, what are we getting when we search for something on Google or Yahoo or anywhere. The game is being rigged and we don't know by whom or how. Search isn't transparent and it isn't objective.

Next question--can we believe digg?

Reader Comments

Phil Bradley

February 8, 2008 9:29 PM

What's surprising about this is that you're surprised. Google is there to provide results that match queries, just the same as any other search engine. It's not their job to decide what is right, or wrong or accurate or fake, and indeed in many respects it's down to opinion. Of *course* companies and individuals try and game the search engine, and anyone who blindly accepts results without analyzing them deserves what they get.

Douglass Turner

February 8, 2008 9:59 PM

Stay calm Bruce. It is not sufficient to crate N bogus blogs. Those blogs need to have sufficient traffic volumes to shift the center of gravity of opinion. Unless they've hired armies of keyboard tapping monkeys to hit these blogs all it not lost.

neal s

February 9, 2008 4:55 AM

I linked this post here before I had a chance to read the comments, and my take matches up well with what Phil and Douglass said. What I'd add, though, is this: that the real issue this brings up is the growing need for people to understand the difference between legitimate search results and PR-fueled, or otherwise manipulated, search results.

It's not Google's job to tell the difference, but the difference matters. Figuring that out becomes more important every day.

bruce nussbaum

February 9, 2008 9:17 PM

Douglas,
What struck fear in me was the confidence this PR person had in being able to shift the center of gravity of opinion. His company was doing just that. It had the ability to generate big volumes of traffic.

Crawford

February 10, 2008 4:10 AM

Bruce,

He got you.

neal s

February 11, 2008 3:25 AM

In my comment above, "here" was supposed to be a link.

www.stratology.com

February 11, 2008 4:05 PM

My post regarding this article is also skeptical of the claimed benefits and impact.

Damon

February 11, 2008 4:38 PM

I would agree with Douglass. Google page rank has a number of determining factors. Also important are 'back links'. Thats why I beg people to consider that its an important social responsibility for bloggers to link to each others site. http://damon4.com

tiddle

February 11, 2008 5:10 PM

Why are there any surprises? Every search engine has its own algorithms. They might or might not yield results that you like. Way back when, when I switched from AltaVista to Google was all because Google gave me more text search match for technical (IT development) issues that I could get from AltaVista and other engines like Yahoo.

Of course we know Google has become very big now. But I can tell you that if Google or any other engines rig their search results so skewed, one of these days, another new-kid-on-the-block is going to come around, does what Google did back then, and pulls the rug from under the now-big-guy Google. It's not a matter of "if", but "when." The mass on the web is not a fool (mostly), but if you're surprised to learn this now, then maybe you are one of not-so-smart bunch.

Brennan

February 11, 2008 5:58 PM

Blogging is an extremely effective tool for search engine optimization i.e. improving your Google page rank. Search engines love blogs since they tend to have fresh, new content as well as a long history of potentially relevant content (not to mention all the searchable text they provide)

Blogging for SEO is not always manipulative either. My organization is considering deploying a blogging strategy to improve our page rank for certain keyword related to our business and we expect that if someone reaches our blog through the organic search results, that we'll actually be providing content they're looking for.

If you have any doubt, just look at the companies emerging around providing software to help organizations blog. Compendium Blogware (www.compendiumblogware.com) is one of them.

Damon

February 11, 2008 7:41 PM

Unfortunetly, leaving links in the comment section of other bloggers is an ineffective way of increasing page rank of 'real' blogs. This is because the 'spam' blogs ruined it. Many blog comments software, such as Nussbaum's, use the no follow attribute on links. Info on this is at Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nofollow

Chris Baggott

February 11, 2008 8:16 PM

Another major trend that is working in favor of the searcher is the idea of employee and constituent blogging.

The idea of PR blogging is pretty "top-down", similar to a CEO blog. Not too credible by the average searcher.

But by having large numbers of employees blog, organizations can really participate in the dialog that is going on around them...they can put real live human beings in front of the searcher...people who are smart, like there jobs, care about the customer and the company and think that they are doing important work. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact it's one of the most positive trends in business today.

Chris Baggott
CEO/Co-founder
Compendium Blogware
www.compendiumblogware.com

Douglass Turner

February 12, 2008 11:43 PM

Oh yah. I forgot to mention this sort of manipulation is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO. Just google SEO. It is an entire industry. Scary.

Cheers,
Doug

Tim

July 10, 2008 6:15 PM

Phil Bradley,Douglass Turner,Neal s and the rest. How do we(general public) know you'r not part of the PR firm? There is a 50/50 chance this blog is fake.

www.businessweek.com

March 25, 2011 8:13 PM

Is_search_a_lie_can_you_really_believe_google.. Awesome :)

www.businessweek.com

April 22, 2011 6:13 AM

Is_search_a_lie_can_you_really_believe_google.. Outstanding :)

www.businessweek.com

April 24, 2011 2:35 AM

Is_search_a_lie_can_you_really_believe_google.. Huh, really? :)

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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