Has Google Manipulated Search Results to Calm Fears?

If you hear about killer fallout from the Japanese nuclear plants coming to the US,  it isn’t.  The story, complete with maps, is a hoax.

Fallout Map from Japanese Nuclear plant radiation leaks
Bogus Fallout Map

One of the best discussions on a phony map was published two days ago on Blogotariat.com.

One of the more interesting bits mentioned in passing in Blogotariat was their observation that Google is manipulating results to help quash the rumors spawned by the map. Despite an hysterical number of posts and Tweets, Blogotariat claimed that Google put on the top of the search results sites that calmed rather than inflamed.

Indeed, I just did a Google search for “nuclear fallout map”.  The #1 web page result was one posted yesterday from the rumor control site, Snopes. The picture of the map on the right with the clear label of “FALSE” is from Snopes.

Google regularly claims that it does NOT manipulate search results.  It says that automatic algorithms determine the order information appears in its results.  Google uses the “software defense” against all claims of bias and commercial manipulation.

Up to now I have believed Google’s claims that no humans are involved.  But, now I wonder.

  • For a page put up yesterday — as Snopes’ was —  to be number 1 for a popular topic is unusual.
  • When I checked the Page Rank (a measure of how popular Google thinks a page is) for the Snopes page, the page shows as “unranked”.  For a page without ranking to show up high in search results is unusual… although the home page at Snopes.com is a very highly rated 8.
  • There were also no backlinks to the page, according to the Google toolbar.  Backlinks indicate to Google that a page is used as an authority by other sites and therefore should show up higher in results.

So, although I haven’t done a thorough search engine optimization review for the Snopes.com debunking page, it seems to be possible that human intervention helped the Snopes rumor control page snag #1 position.  Especially since:

  • Google’s company policy is to do no evil.  Helping spread panic would be doing evil.  Taking steps to keep popular — but false and inflammatory pages — lower in search results would prevent Google from doing evil.

The possible changing of search results  means that in the future I am going to be a bit more skeptical of Google’s claim that all search results are automatic.  While Google’s motives in this case are benign — or at least in concert with my instincts and morals —  manipulating results is worrisome.  Could Google modify results to eliminate political views/commerical products/competitor information they don’t like?  Do they already? Will they?

Yep, something to worry about.  But, Google’s possible manipulation is a much smaller lump of worry to have than the worry lump I’d have if I had believed the faked fallout map.

So thank you, Google.  But, I’ll be watching you.

And, of course, everyone can calm their friends about this — and other Internet rumors — by referring people to responsible places like Snopes.com!

Where to Find a Top San Francisco Hairstylist?

Len has trained in top hair salons and has over 20 years experience with precision hair cutting, hair coloring, highlights and lowlights, and other facets of hairstyling.

A few years ago he had a spiffy-looking web site created for him by a team with a graphics design background. He loves the site’s look… and he should! But, he’s been concerned that over time he has gained no clients from the site. In fact, when he searched Google for his site using any terms potential clients might use, his site didn’t came up. Len wants clients in Sonoma and San Francisco — he works in two studios — but anyone searching for a “top stylist” or other related term wouldn’t be told of his site.

Search Engine Optimization has helped Len’s site show up in the top 10 Google results within one week. He’s #4 in Google for “top stylist in Sonoma” one of his chosen keyword phrases. Eleven other of Len’s selected phrases now show up in the top 100 Google results. We don’t know when Google crawled his site for the updated pages, and we’ll be watching for additional result improvements in the coming weeks as all of the site’s changes are noticed by Google. And, his site improved in a similar way in Bing and Yahoo! results (the site is #1 in Yahoo! for “Precision Haircutting in San Francisco”).

The original, graphics-designer-published site had no page titles that focused on Len’s keywords. The pages had no descriptions, no text headings, and no ALT tags for the images. These HTML codes are all keys to Search Engine Optimization. Overall, the site was very pretty, but it didn’t tell Google and other search engines much about its content.

I went through Len’s site and featured one of the keyword phrases Len had picked on each page. Then I put in meaningful <title>s, headings, text, and ALT tags on every image. I also fixed a gross HTML coding error that wrongly told Google and other search engines that one of the pages ended in the middle.  See his top San Francisco and Sonoma hair stylist site — and if you’re a techie person, view the source code to see what I did.

Frankly, I was surprised to see any improvement in Len’s rankings in just a week.  When I first started optimizing web pages, it would take weeks for Google to revisit an established site, index it, and change the search results.

I wouldn’t want to guarantee results in a week, either. But, if you or someone you know need help with your search engine rankings, let’s talk about what can be done! I’m at 415.347.6479.