Tag Archives: search engine optimization

The risk of living in a filter bubble

The Filter Bubble coverI’ve been looking for this book for a long time. Or maybe I should rephrase that. I was pondering this topic and had been looking for a book which covered it for a while so I was pleased to come across The Filter Bubble.

Digging into search engine optimization and analytics while building my own website, I was often confused by inconsistent Google search results. Realizing I was on a different computer, or I was logged into Google services I would logout to see the untainted results, the results everyone else was seeing. Or was I?

As Google+ personalization launched the topic of search really piqued my interest. Why had I been given different results at different times? The coverage on Gigaom, AllThingsD, TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb cautioned that this could be the turning point for Google, in a bad way.

The filter

It’s true Google takes signals from many different sources. With the launch of Google+ they now incorporate additional social signals. As Facebook becomes the default dashboard for more and more internet users, the means of finding content is shifting from Search to Social. So Google is responding to this by making their overall service more social as well.

The impact though for users of the service could be confusion. Many users I’ve spoken to, working in tech or otherwise think the results they see on Google are unbiased and the same for each user. Google’s secret sauce has always been its algorithm that returned the best results. Now that social signals are mixed into the page rank brew, will users continue to value Google results?

A cause for concern

Pariser’s illustrates the difference in Google search today with great examples. After the gulf oil spill, he asked two friends to search for “BP”. One saw breaking news on the topic, the other got investment information about BP. Filter bubble, indeed.

Behavior Targeting, as it’s termed in the industry, is all about figuring out what you want before you ask. But sociologist Danah Boyd argued in a Web 2.0 Expo speech in 2009, that with all this personalization giving us exactly what we *want* that
“If we’re not careful, we’re going to develop the psychological equivalent of obesity”.
Even foundres, Sergey Brin and Larry Page in the early days apparently thought that this bias might turn out to be a problem

[quote_left]“We expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers”.— Sergey Brin & Larry Page, Google[/quote_left]

Firms like Recorded Future promise to “unlock the predictive power of the web” and lesser known but formidable Acxiom which specializes in marketing and personalization, combing through mountains of data to figure out what coast you live on, how you vote, what you eat and drink, and almost what you’re going to do before you do it.

Pariser touches on everything in this book from present bias to meaningful threats, the priming effect, accessibility bias and warns of getting trapped in what he terms a “you loop” where you continue to see things framed and personalized by what you’ve viewed and reacted to before, ultimately narrowing your view, and limiting your exposure to new information.

Perhaps the biggest problem with these opaque transformations applied to your data is that they play judge and jury with no appeal; sometimes without your knowledge that you were in a courtroom being judged. Programmers write algorithms and code to perform these transformations, sorting people into groups. If they put people in a group that doesn’t match them they call it “overfitting”. In society we might call this some sort of stereotyping.

One chapter titled the Adderall Society, asks if this filter bubble isn’t part of a larger transformation that’s pushing our thinking towards the conservative and calculative, limiting creativity or foreign ideas that can break categories, and encouraging us to ignore or steer around serendipity.

The book bumps into a great spectrum of thinkers on this topic, from Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand, to Amit Singhal an engineer on Google’s team, and John Battelle’s SearchBlog. He speaks to Chris Coyne – okcupid.com, David Shields on what he calls truthiness and former CIA consultant John Rendon who says “filter bubbles provide new ways of managing perceptions” and suggests the garden variety Thesaurus as a powerful tool that nudges debates with new language.

Be aware but don’t be paranoid

Although I think the book gives valuable insight, I was a little dismayed by the mood of paranoia in its title. With a subtitle like What the Internet is Hiding from You, it suggests a conspiracy or hidden agenda. Now obviously these large corps have a motive to make money, but I don’t think anyone is surprised at that. To some, Pariser’s views may appear somewhat left leaning but the issues raised in his book transcends political boundaries. They are matters that concern society at large.

In the end I think I’m probably more optimistic about these things. With a long view, society tends to work out these issues, through public pressure or simply buying differently. As Google is quick to remind us, we can easily choose an alternate search engine. In the future perhaps public pressure will push firms to provide more transparency about these filtering mechanisms allowing end users to manage their own filter settings.

I’ll leave you with a few ideas to chew on. Can code and algorithms curate properly? Should there be another button alongside the Like button such as “Important”?

Pariser quoted the folks at the New York Times: “We don’t let metrics dictate our assignments and play, because we believe readers come to us for our judgement, not the judgement of the crowd”. Indeed. But in the internet age, is that what they *buy* or *click*?

Web Cornerstone – iHeavy Insights Newsletter 80

I’ve recently been doing a lot of Search Engine Optimization for my corporate website.  This makes your site more visible and keyword rich for the search engines, helping your customers more easily find you. In that process it quickly becomes clear how important the website is to your business.  On the internet it is surely the cornerstone of your business, your virtual storefront.

Site Speed Is Key

Study after study from Google and others have shown that the speed and response of a website directly affects user experience and in turn use of your product or service.  It translates directly to the business bottom line.

Speed is accomplished by first measuring current speed and performance, then tuning and optimizing the various layers of technology which support it.  Then measuring again to determine the speedup.  You can then tie those changes to customer retention, higher click through rates, more time spent on the site, and higher conversions.  Apply a dollar value to your conversions and you can then estimate the direct value of that effort.

Interface to Customers

The image your company projects is formed first by your website.  The usability and simplicity affects how customers feel about interacting with your products and services.  What’s more the information, solutions, tools and downloads available also reflect directly on your business.

Analytics tools like Google’s or Yahoo’s allow you to track conversions.  These are important metrics to show when customers are taking action.  They are traditionally used for when a purchase is made on an ecommerce site, but can just as easily be put to useful work tracking bookmarks, form submissions, phone call or request a callback, downloads, newsletter signups, likes and a lot more.  If you do use conversions for these diverse functions, be sure to assign a dollar value by estimating based on the percentage who convert and those who later become paying customers in one way or another.

It’s All About Operations

Your website should be backed by a solid and flexible content management system so you can make SEO and ongoing process as well as tuning and optimization.  WordPress, Drupal, Joomla are just a few.  Use caching at every layer, and optimize images for faster download.  Of course you’ll also need to apply best practices for disaster recovery, making sure your database and content are backed up regularly, as well as your server configuration components.

All of this boils down to web operations, that hidden support providing your internet technology foundation.

Book Review: The Art of SEO by Enge, Spencer, Fishkin & Stricchiola

Search Engine Optimization is for sure one part art, but it is certainly a lot of science too, and this book really covers all of the angles.  Even if you don’t plan to do the SEO yourself, it’s good to have a strong grounding in the material so you can make intelligent decisions.

Plan to do research and brainstorm on the main keywords your customers use, what your competitors do differently and tune your site and CMS to best fit those searches.  You’ll learn to optimize title tags, content and anchor text to be keyword rich, and most importantly of all plan a link building campaign to grow inbound links to your site and thus your authority and reputation on the internet.

Art of SEO is comprehensive, easy to follow & thorough, but also easy enough to dip into here and there for pointers if that’s all you need.  I also like O’Reilly’s layouts and font, so it’s very easy on the eyes.


Heavyweight Internet Group is a boutique technology consulting firm operating in New York City. In business for over ten years, we have weathered the dot-com storm, continuing to provide our clients with the very best expertise. Concentrating on client needs & their business bottom line, we let needs and value drive technology solutions, not the other way around.

Our many years in the business have brought us perspectives and experience which we bring to the table with every new client. The value is obvious. What’s more we provide individual attention and focus to each client, another tremendous benefit.

Selected Clients

Active Reasoning

Advance Publications

American DBA Online

American Law Media

Ariane Anthony Dance Co.

Community Connect, Inc.

Conducive Corporation

Cyber Logics, Inc.

Database Journal

Dotomi, Inc.

DownloadCard, Inc.

DBA Online

DBA Zine/BMC Software

Efferent Corp.

EFY Group – New Delhi, India

Far Countries, Inc.

firmView, LLC.

GL Trade, Inc.

IN2, Inc.

Infovest21, LLC.

Inside Cinema

Integrated Media, Inc.

Independent Oracle User Group

Kaplan, Inc.

Marketing Technology Solutions

Method Five, Inc.


Missing Pixel

Money-Media, Inc.

NBC/iVillage – NeverSayDiet.com


Nechsi, LLC

Net Creations, Inc.

New York Oracle User Group

Oracle Technology Network

Physical Arts Center

Proteometrics, Inc.

Real Estate Online

Riptide Communications, LLC

Robichaux & Associates, Inc.

Solbright, Inc.

Starmedia, Inc.

Streamedia, Inc.

Susquehanna International Group

Timeout NY

TSI, Inc.

Wireless Generation

Workspeed, Inc.

Xceed Corp.

Top Five Easy Ways to Search Engine Optimization

  1. Convert to WordPress
  2. Categorize and tag your content.
  3. Use Google Analytics
  4. Create new content regularly
  5. Create a sitemap.xml


This popular blogging software has evolved into a full featured content management system.  Most types of businesses could host on wordpress, although they’d typically require a designer to layout a theme which matches your businesses requirements.

The advantage is huge.  WordPress has evolved lockstep with the internet, and has integrated SEO right into the engine.  So your content will be very search engine friendly out of the box.

Categorize and Tag

This allows helps the search engines understand your material.  Remember these are software algorithms that read or “crawl” your site.  So they aren’t intelligent, and can make mistakes about what your content is about.  By providing specific tags, you help put your material in the right places, and have it indexed better by the search engines.

Use Google Analytics

This free service is a phenomenal way to see what’s happening on your site everyday, and what content is popular.  You can view hits, and where they’re coming from, and what search terms they used to find your site.

For an even more powerful tool and real-time analytics check out Chart Beat.

Create New Content

Adding new content regularly keeps your site fresh, and the search engines will notice this.  As more content is added, it will also allow the search engines to better categorize what types of content is there.  The more relevant content there is, the more the search engines will decide you are a good place to send their searchers.

Create a Sitemap

This is a map you give to the search engines so they can easily find all the pages in your site.  Without it they may only find pages linked from the homepage.  WordPress has an easy plugin which builds this for you.  No mess, no trouble.