Were you aware of this search engine deception?

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or read someone who thought something they wrote must be getting a lot of views because “it shows up on the first page of Google Search Results”. They don’t realize that this has no meaning and is deceptive. To explain why I need to go back about 20 years.

At that time, I was working as a technical engineer for a company named Gator, which later changed their name to Claria.

Gator produced several handy software applications, such as an eWallet, weather application, and so forth. These applications were offered for free, with the agreement that they would deliver advertising. It was the advertising that paid for the development and functionality of the applications and the free technical support that went along with them. This was quite lucrative for a simple reason. Online advertising is only worthwhile if people read it and at least sometimes click on the ad. This is called the ‘click-through’ rate. At the time, an average click-through rate was about 13%. In other words, only 13 out of every 100 people would click on a given ad. 

It didn’t take much effort for the developers to figure out why the rate was so low: Relevance. If a person had been searching for and reading about chocolates to give to their sweetheart, they weren’t apt to click on an ad for new Dodge trucks. They would, however, likely click on an ad for chocolates, because it was relevant to the user.

With a lot of effort and a bit of brilliance, the engineers developed an anonymous means of tracking what a person had been typing, reading, or searching for, in order to deliver relevant ads. It worked. Click-through rates skyrocketed to over 37%, which was considered to be an impossibility at the time.

A few years later, Gator/Claria folded, for reasons that aren’t important here. In an effort to make as much money as possible in the little time left, the ad delivery technology was sold to Google. You might notice that with all Google products, including the search engine, you are often served ads that are relevant to what you’ve been reading, writing, or searching for. This is the reason. They are using the software developed by Gator.

Google took it a step farther, though. They tied in that software to their search engine. It is one reason the Google search engine still commands most of the search engine market share. The results you get when you search for something are partly based on what you’ve been reading, writing, or searching for. This is the deception. What you’ve been reading, writing, and searching for isn’t the same as what I’ve been reading, writing or searching for, so the search results page for any given search term is nearly always different for any two people. IF you write an article about haystacks and later find that a google search shows your article on the first page of the search results, it means nothing. If I search for haystacks, your article may not show up in the first 100 pages of results. Obviously, this isn’t something that Google is likely to explain, though the goal actually isn’t to deceive anyone, it is to rule the market share for search engines by delivering relevant content.

  • Were you aware of this search engine deception?

    • Yes
    • No


What do you think?

14 Points

Written by Rex Trulove


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  1. I knew about ads, I didn’t know it was the same for search results. So I guess we need to search if our content is well optimized with a “clear” browser where our activity wasn’t tracked. I bet that also applies to YouTube as it’s owned by Google. That was interesting to know, thanks for sharing!


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