“Google search has the power to rig the 2016 election”, according to Fortune’s recent article based off of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology’s study. What a thought. Something as simple as asking the Google search bar, “who will win the presidential election” is enough to sway undecided voters by nearly 20%.  And why not? The NY Times stated that Google search engine accounts for nearly 80% of all web searches in the US. According to Statistic Brain Research Institute in 2014, Google had an average of 5,740,000,000 searches per day. If that doesn’t prove Google search is a trusted authority amongst web users, then we’re not paying attention.

AIBRT calls this rigging power of Google “Search Engine Manipulation Effect” (SEME). If Google tweaks the algorithms in order to show more positive search results for a candidate on the first page, the searcher will see those positive results, thus influencing their decision. If you think about how many presidential elections were won by small margins, biased Google searches hold unbelievable amounts of power.

AIBRT Researchers wrote in their op-ed piece, “Because SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social influence, because the effect is so large and because there are currently no specific regulations anywhere in the world that would prevent Google from using and abusing this technique, we believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government.” Google responded by saying, “Providing relevant answers has been the cornerstone of Google’s approach to search from the very beginning. It would undermine the people’s trust in our results and company if we were to change course.”

Even though their statement is littered with denial, the fact still remains that 4,500 participants from two differing countries were affected by voting preferences, nearly up to 80% in certain demographic groups. When the op-ed piece was written on August 19, 2015, Google trends were showing Donald Trump to be defeating other candidates for search activity in 47 of the 50 states. While the election results won’t be announced for some time yet, people are seeing articles, posts, blogs, and statistics at the top of Google search rankings based on how the algorithms are adjusted. That means they aren’t seeing the articles and posts on the other candidates, producing less-informed citizens.

The results of the study are shocking, to say the least. If Google search engines are capable of swaying the vote of an entire country, think about the influence it has on potential customers of your business.

How can you make sure searchers are finding all the positive information on your business and not the few negative things? The answer lies in effective online marketing, specifically Search Engine Optimization (SEO). All searchers use a keyword to find what they want. Google search ranks every web page based on huge number of ranking factors which can all be categorized into Onsite Optimization and Offsite Optimization. Onsite refers to the title tags, metadata, keyword meta information and other coding measures that help tell Google “Spiders” that search the internet what your page is all about. Offsite refers to successful promotion of links from other users outside your business. Links are still an important ranking factor for Google. The more relevant certain articles and blog posts are to your site, the more likely people are to click for more information. Not only that,  the higher the page rank of someone else linking to your website the higher your rank will go. It’s the classic “Not what you know, but who you know”.

While this can be fantastic for your business, it’s important to remember that enough bad articles and posts can bump your company forward in a negative way. If enough of those people working for and/or buying from your company deal with bad experiences, the more likely they are to speak openly about it. Sometimes it can be as miniscule as a disgruntled employee or ex but enough to send the bad reviews soaring to the top of Google search rankings, especially if the material is from a credible source. The best way to combat such abuse is to bury it. Keep creating positive content that will be catchy and interesting enough to get shared. Or, to put it more succinctly, build your credibility in order that others with prestige will place their trust back in your company.

The bottom line after looking back is this; never forget how important and powerful Google search rankings can be. The first thing people see about you on Google is the thing they can’t forget. Even though SEME is frustrating in light of the presidential election, it’s proof that Google search can and will sway opinions no matter how much you fight it.

For a free consultation on how a strategic SEO plan can benefit your business, contact ZED Digital today.

By: Abigail Israel, Internet Marketing Specialist