Examining Search Engine Bias and How to Overcome it
How B2B businesses can stay informed about search engine bias and use it to keep their online presence visible.
You might be reading this blog because you’re not entirely sure what search engine bias is or worrying if it’s hindering your search results. The truth is, it’s a gray area. Some experts argue that it’s harmful and perpetuates stereotypes based on the internet user—after all, just like all your social media profiles, search engines know who you are.
However, others would argue that it does have its benefits. This “bias” helps users find what they are looking for quicker and cut through the clutter. From a business perspective, search engine bias has the potential to both harm and help your B2B company in search results. So at the end of the day, it’s important to stay in the know, to make sure you’re harnessing it for the latter.
What is Search Engine Bias?
A study published in Springer explains it well:
“Due to search engines’ automated operations, people often assume that search engines display search results neutrally and without bias. However, this perception is mistaken. Like any other media company, search engines affirmatively control their users’ experiences, which has the consequence of skewing search results (a phenomenon called “search engine bias”).”
We can’t ignore that this bias has led to negative effects for internet users. Orestis Papakyriakopoulos, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, says “the search engine brings in front all the stereotypes and biases that actually exist in the society, and consequently also exist online.”
Remember how search engine algorithms have portrayed natural Black hair in an “unprofessional” light? Studies have also revealed gender biases in search algorithms. For example, job seekers. Women are mainly shown vacancies for female-dominant jobs in their search results, and vice versa.
There’s also an overall search engine bias towards corporations like Amazon and Facebook—which is a warranted concern for small businesses. No matter how hard a business works to boost its online presence, it seems like larger companies keep outdoing the smaller ones in SERPs.
Awareness of this bias and privacy concerns have led some internet users to switch to search engines like DuckDuckGo, which takes a stance against online tracking. While you as an SEO professional may be aware of this personally, we need to assume that our target audience does not and that Google is the standard.
“For the most part, Google’s bias is trying to provide the best answer, website, product, etc. for a given query. By following local search optimization tips, Google’s ‘give users the most relevant and helpful result possible’ bias can work in your favor.” —Jack Thornburg, VP of Organic Growth, UpCity
So Search Engine Bias is Clearly Bad, Right?
Well, not necessarily in all cases. The Springer study mentioned above acknowledges that search engine companies who claim their core operations are entirely automated and free from human intervention are not being truthful. However, it also makes the case that search engine bias may sound scary, but that bias is both necessary and desirable, and that emerging personalization technology will soon ameliorate many concerns about search engine bias.
“For the most part, Google’s bias is trying to provide the best answer, website, product, etc. for a given query,” says Jack Thornburg, Vice President of Organic Growth at UpCity.
“So our local B2B companies can and should try to use that to their advantage,” Thornburg continues. “The best example is to optimize for local search—you provide a service in your local area, so optimize those local signals for Google as best you can! By following local search optimization tips, Google’s ‘give users the most relevant and helpful result possible’ bias can work in your favor.”
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OK, So What’s My B2B Business to Do?
Knowledge is power. Search engine bias may seem like a barrier for SEO teams, but there are white hat techniques to help your business stay visible.
“When searching for something on Google, you might notice that you need to scroll down through the ads, featured snippets, business results, and miscellaneous carousels before you actually get to the first organic result that hasn’t paid or ‘optimized’ its way to the top,” says Emily Gant, an SEO Content Strategist at UpCity. “There are a lot of businesses that worry that unless they have paid a team of SEO experts to optimize, they don’t stand a chance to beat the big corporations that make it onto the first page of Google. I’d argue that while hiring an SEO team is very necessary in today’s digital world, it’s more important to provide high-value, quality content,” she adds.
“Highly specific and targeted low-volume keywords are a B2B service provider’s friend.” —Emily Gant, SEO Content Strategist, UpCity
Gant also notes there are differences in B2B versus B2C SEO in terms of which keywords will be targeted. Traffic volume is a less precise success indicator for B2B services where one single visit has the potential to bring in a lot more revenue.
“For this reason, highly specific and targeted low-volume keywords are a B2B service provider’s friend,” she says.
Detailed industry-specific keyword research is vital, Gant emphasizes, to find those long-tail targeted keywords that will capture the attention of that ideal target customer.
Navigating Gray Territory
The concept of search engine bias leaves a lot to be discovered. Whether its pros outweigh the cons, vice versa, or if it’s even as big of a problem as some experts say is up for some debate. To help wrap your head around it all, stay focused on SEO best practices and bettering your business.
“B2B marketers are usually focused on lead generation and engagement over direct revenue,” Gant says. “By anticipating the specific questions of your customers and targeting specific keywords to find them, bias shouldn’t be an issue. Also, there is data to suggest that there is no corporate or brand bias in Google’s world. So it all goes back to choosing the right keywords and providing valuable resources.”
About the author
Rebecca helps keep all things content running at UpCity. Prior to joining, she was a magazine editor at an agency for several award-winning publications based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and a content specialist for several brands within the SMB/B2B landscape. She also has significant experience in digital content creation, most notably targeting hunters and anglers (despite being a vegetarian) during her time at Gander Outdoors. Rebecca has also worked in PR, covering a diverse terrain of products and events, including the promotion of local musicians and music festivals and the latest craft beer offerings from local breweries.