What Does the Filter Bubble Mean for Measurement and Search Engine Optimization?

Dotcom vs Dotorg

In my past post, I talked about the societal ramifications of the “Filter Bubble” as described by Eli Pariser.  Essentially Google and other web platforms (including social networking sites like Facebook) have been quietly manipulating what each of us sees so that everything is personally-tailored to us.  I tend to think that this pushes us further toward an unsettling future where we live in our own insular cocoons, distanced more starkly from those who aren’t like us.

The Filter Bubble also has serious ramifications for measurement and search engine optimization (SEO), practices of dire concern to anyone in public relations, marketing, or advertising.  If Google looks different to every single person searching it, what does that mean for PageRank?

Search is the primary way people find the web content they’re looking for; doubtless the analytics of most organizations websites would show that Google accounts for the majority of traffic to their site.  Given the wide variety of content on the web, it’s become rarer for people to go directly to a website domain.  Google holds 66 percent of the market share in search – they DOMIN8.

For example: if I’m working for Client #1 and they’ve hired me to make sure that their site is found by their publics when searched for in Google and other search engines, how the heck do I quantify success?  I’m asking because I’m pretty tech-savvy and I honestly don’t know.

Case Study: DeVries.com vs. DeVries.org

I’m currently involved in a battle with another Derek DeVries for the top results in Google for the name “Derek DeVries” (in actuality, he probably doesn’t know we’re in a battle and probably doesn’t care – it’s all in my head).

DerekDeVries.com vs. DerekDeVries.org

Unfortunately for me, he happens to be bright, tech-savvy and authored a book on programming with Ruby on Rails.  Also unfortunately for me, my legacy of web content isn’t tied to my actual name because I used to operate under the old model of being a netizen and used a pseudonym so I basically had to start from scratch on building my online presence a few years ago.  Slowly, I’ve built up enough credibility and a large enough network to rise to the top of the Google search results for “Derek DeVries.”

Or have I?

I can’t be sure now, because the Filter Bubble means that my search for the term isn’t like anyone else’s.

Using a PageRank analysis tool like Google PageRank Checker doesn’t help because it produces the same results for both domains (and it may be contaminated by the filter bubble).

I can’t even conduct an experiment and have people send me screen shots of what they see when they search for “Derek DeVries,” because invariably their results will be skewed simply by the fact that they’re already in my network and are aware of me.

How do we reach out to new and diverse publics (to whom our messages may be relevant)?

6 thoughts on “What Does the Filter Bubble Mean for Measurement and Search Engine Optimization?

  1. Paul Kortman says:


    There has been a lot of questions similar to this in the SEO community. The long and short of it is the basics are still critical but now more than ever before Social Media plays a very important role in the ranking algorithm.

    The big G will continue to strive to present the most relevant results to its users. Current thinking is that Social (aka your network) includes signals pointing to relevancy. (Right or wrong, that can be debated)

    There are tools which anonymize the searcher. For example tools that I use to determine actual position of my clients for their keywords which run automated. I use a couple of different tools to verify the results I get from each. Its a complicated/expensive process but ensures accurate results. While this might not help you reach your “publics” (target audience) it gives confidence in successful SEO techniques.

    Now here’s where I’ll slightly contradict myself. Google will present content to you that is not within your network if Google determines it is more relevant than anything seen before in your network. Read between the lines here. If you are not in the right network with your content the SEO hurdle is simply higher. Your content has to be more relevant than before. More specific, more popular than before.

    A side note? It’s fun to have a client fight internally over rankings because different employees see different results.


  2. Susan Maxwell Stevens says:

    I’ve been wondering the same thing as I talk to folks about keywords and SEO options. BTW, on my Google page, top hits were:
    you on Twitter
    him (?) on Facebook
    about for your blog
    homepage for your blog

    Close race!


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