Don’t build links, build bubbles…

If done correctly, you can put your business at the top of Google without building a single link. Using Google plus, you can create filter bubbles to ensure that your content not only gets to your customers but it’s more likely to appear at the top of the search results when they need it most.

Before reading, watch this video by Eli Pariser which explains the principles of filter bubbles.

So, now you know what a filter bubble is; if you don’t, the short version is this:

A filter bubble is a virtual membrane that decides what content you get to see online.


What’s this got to do with SEO or search?

Since the introduction of Search plus your world and Google plus, the standard ten web results we are used to seeing has changed. Two search results can vary a lot due to the effects of personalisation. Whether you agree or disagree with filter bubbles, as marketers we need to be aware of how we can use them to our advantage - for Distilled, how we can use them to get our clients to the top of the search results when customers need them most.

I know I know, Google plus is a ghost town etc but, for some industries, Google plus is worth engaging in and, in my opinion, this will slowly spread to more industries. That’s not to say our friends are suddenly going to leave Facebook and jump on G+ but because Google will start at the top of the tree and work their way down to promote awareness and engagement.

Take Lady Gaga for example, while I don’t care much for her music it can’t be argued that she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world. If Lady Gaga decides to exclusively launch her next video on Google plus as she did with YouTube in 2010, you can be sure her millions of fans will do whatever it takes to see that video.

Google has already had huge stars take part in G+ hangouts - Daniel Radcliffe, David Beckham, Barack Obama and even the muppets to name but a few.

I think we’ll also start to see brands pushing G+ as well, not just online but also on their offline ads and TV campaigns in the way we’ve come to expect brands to push their Facebook pages. Why? Because no matter how many times Coca Cola or whoever ask us to like them on Facebook, it doesn’t change the search results -  G+ does. Look at the image below - specifically the grey text beneath the search result - these are the search results for “online poker”.

This is the first page of search results when I’m signed into my Distilled G+ account (I have 2, one for Distilled and one for personal stuff). When doing some tests for a presentation in October, I +1’d the PKR site from my personal one. What happened is shown in the image above - because I’m friends with myself (obviously) PKR went from page 2 to page 1 instantly. That’s a pretty significant jump. Let’s think about that for a second, because someone I know +’d a page, Google show it in my search results.  Another scenario is shown in the image below.

personalised search

This time, the search term was “car insurance”, and again, swiftcover went from page 2 to position 3. Notice this time that it was swiftcover that shared that page not one of my friends - interesting. Again, as part of this test I had +1’d the swift cover page as shown below:


OK, let’s review what’s happened so far as it’s getting confusing.

  1. If one of my friends +1’s a page, that page is more likely to show up in my personalised results.
  2. If I +1 a page, that page is more likely to show up in my search results.
  3. If I +1 a brands G+page, anything that brand shares on G+is more likely to show up in my search results - including their own product pages such as this car insurance example.

The effects of the above are what I refer to when I talk about building filter bubbles not links.

Using the above knowledge, you can help influence the filter bubbles of your customers so that you not only get through that filter bubble but get your clients to the top of the search results when customers are looking for their services. Taking the above into account, assuming budget wasn’t an issue, I have three actions.

  1. Celebrity endorsements - Let’s look at point 1 above again - “If one of my friends +1’s a page, that page is more likely to show up in my personalised results.” - Celebrities have lots of friends as I write this David Beckham has 4 million followers, Lady Gaga has 4.8 million followers and Britney Spears has 5.2 million. Celebrity endorsements are not new, all I’m saying is that next time brands like Pepsi and Nike want to pay celebrities like Britney Spears and Tiger Woods $50 million, they might ask them to +1 their page and share their product pages. If Britney Spears +1s your page, she’s potentially just changed the search results of 5 million people.
  2. Use this as a chance to overlap search and social. As well as running Twitter and Pinterest competitions are great what about running a “+1 to get 1” competition? Once a month you give away an iPad or similar prize to one of your G+ followers. Now anything you share is more likely to show up in their search results. I can’t explain how amazing this is - get people to +1 your page to win an iPad then occasionally share your product pages which show up when they search for things related to that term - it’s a no brainer for me.
  3. Don’t feel the need to go direct to customers, if you can get people that are friends or people that are respected by your target market to +1 your brand that will also put you within touching distance of your customers since what they +1 affects their friends search results.

Before I finish I’d like to answer some of the objections I expect from this post.

  1. Do I think it’s fair that sites jump onto page one just because a friend likes a brand? No, obviously this isn’t true in all cases but, at the moment, Google are clearly still experimenting and like all things in search there can be advantages to early adoption. I’m not saying this is good or bad, I’m just saying we should use it to our advantage while we can.
  2. But there’s no-one on G+ - Yes and no. In any case, get over it. We have a habit of thinking unless sites have the audience of Facebook they’re not work engaging in, we need to get rid of that attitude. Bottom line is there are millions of users on G+. That’s more than enough to care about it.
  3. Am I a G+ fanboy? Nope, I’m just throwing some ideas out there that will hopefully get some interesting conversations going. Ultimately, Google want to be as smart as you and to do that they need to know who you are, what you like and who your friends are -  so personalised search is definitely the future - in my opinion, it’s important that we start thinking about these things now. I’d love to know your thoughts so please comment and share.
Craig Bradford

Craig Bradford

Craig joined Distilled in March 2011. Originally from Scotland, Craig moved to London in search of becoming an SEO ninja. After spending 4 years at Strathclyde University studying Sports Engineering, he decided that he didn’t fancy designing sports...   read more

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  1. Scott

    Great stuff, Craig, and this is definitely worth a try. I envision a Facebook giveaway to get the +1's going. May try this in December and report back to you!

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    • Craig Bradford

      Thanks for commenting Scott. Absolutely – There’s no reason not to include as many social platforms as possible. Let me know how you get on with it.

  2. Great post! I've already had clients asking me specific questions about how their results have changed as it relates to Google+. While one would always hope that Google would develop the most relevant results, I can't help but wonder the negative effects this sort of methodology may present. It's creating a social realm of information sharing, but it seems so simple in the way that it presents results (based on your tests) that it almost seems scary. I'll be interested to see where this heads. Thanks for the info!

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    • Craig Bradford

      Thanks Kyle, one way to check if the results are a result of G+ is the amount of (not provided) traffic. There's also a section in Google Webmaster tools that shows +1s and how it's impacted search so it might be worth having a look at that. Admittedly I'm not sure how accurate the data in WMT is. I agree that the way it' set up at the moment is too much, but that's not the first time we've seen Google do things like this, but ultimately Google will always do what's best for users, if this sort of personalization doesn't increase the number of people using Google, or even worse decreases it, they'll drop it. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Wow, great explanation of the whole google +1 process.

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  4. I like the possibilities it presents.
    Something along the lines of follower wonk for Gplus would make testing and targeting easier. Richard Baxters Search Love presentation certainly comes to mind.

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  5. Amy

    Hi Craig,
    Thanks for the informational piece. The video was a great overview of personalization and invisible algorithmic editing of the web. I'm about to launch a product and will be testing a Google + giveaway...after reading this article. I'll surely keep you posted on results. What I really wish I had was a +1 from Justin Bieber ;-)

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    • Craig Bradford

      Thanks for commenting Amy, I'd love to hear the outcome of your tests - do let me know how it goes.

  6. Really this is just classic marketing. Target people who have the attention of your target market and you will subsequently target your target market. :)

    I did not realize Google+ showed second-tier connections in SERPS. That is pretty significant.

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  7. It's always funny to me how things tend to come full circle. Eli Pariser was right with the point of the gatekeepers and the torch somewhat being passed. It often seems to me that the more we try to SEO, the more we tend to revert to marketing. Your article inspired a few fresh ideas, so thank you!

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  8. Nice detailed post Craig :) Will this also work for people not logged into Google services?

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    • Craig Bradford

      Hi Woj, Other people have already mentioned but just to clarify - this will only work if people sign into their account. Also at the moment this is only on I've not seen it on etc. But what Google does on the .com is normally rolled out to other locations if it's successful. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Thanks for sharing. I agree that there is no better time to start building your social list/network now before it is too late. If social is the next big thing online. Why are we so late to adopt and grow with the networks.

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  10. Wonderful! I read your blog regularly. Amazing your idea and post. Carry on your blog. A lot of thanks!

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  11. Sorry craig but Googleplus is very slow process to get the amount visibility we all want in short period of time.

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  12. Craig, I agree with your reasoning but my heart sinks at the thought of more hoops that we need to jump through to get credibility in the eyes of Google. However, ignorance is not always bliss and I for one will act upon your article - thank you.

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  13. Brilliant post Craig! Now, we just need to jump on this idea before it catches on too much ;) This won't help for people not showing personal results, but since it is turned on by default, chances are most people have it on still (assuming they're logged in)

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  14. Aren't there rules against manipulating plus one clicks? Meaning that asking people to do that in order to enter a comp would surely come under those rules.... and Google won't like it.

    Please let me know if I'm wrong cuz if so, it's a brilliant idea!

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    • Craig Bradford

      Hi Amy, thanks for taking the time to comment. I think you're right, I've never read the G+ guidelines specifically but judging by Neil's response below, it does look like running a competition isn't allowed.

      However, the competition idea is a tactic, the bigger strategy is to do something good enough to get people to +1 your G+ page or product pages. How you do that is up to you, if the competitions are not allowed, find another way, put exclusive content on your G+ page that other people don't get or if you're an e-commerce store, perhaps you could release the dates of your next sale on the G+ page first. Do whatever it takes while staying within Google's guidelines, I hope this helps and please let me know if you do decide to try this out.

  15. Nice article Craig, good timing for me. I've shared it around the office, as it touches on a few concepts we've been discussing this week.

    Amy, you are right in one sense, but there is most likely a workaround.

    Google says:

    "You may not run contests, sweepstakes, offers, coupons or other such promotions (“Promotion”) directly on your Google+ Page. You may display a link on your Google+ Page to a separate site where your Promotion is hosted.."

    Fair enough (I'm sure it wont stop people running them on their Page, of course, just like the similar Facebook policy).

    "Your Promotion must not be run or conducted in a way which conflicts with the +1 Button Policies"

    Naturally. Let's check those out then..

    "Publishers may not promote prizes, monies, or monetary equivalents in exchange for Google+ button clicks."

    Ok, so no +1 to enter promos, fair enough (though, again, these will undoubtedly still take place, just like on FB). Google then goes on to say..

    "For the avoidance of doubt, Publishers may direct users to a Google+ button to enable content and functionality."

    Gotta love the use of "For the avoidance of doubt" right before throwing some doubt into the mix, thanks Google.

    Are we to understand that it's legitimate to use the +1 button to reveal an entry form, which contains a rudimentary quiz question and email capture field? Or is that not what Google means here?

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    • Craig Bradford

      Hi Neil, thanks for taking the time to look into this in such detail - it's very interesting to see how some of that is worded. While I agree that people will probably still get around this and do it, I would still stick to the guidelines rather than risk getting the account closed after putting in so much effort. As I said to Amy in the comment above, if I'm honest I actually wasn't aware of these guidelines.

      As I said to Amy though, rather than risk it, I would forget the competition tactic and use the strategy of having something on your G+ page that's so good people will +1 the page anyway. The obvious choice would be something like exclusive videos or insights into your market but it could really be anything. I hope this helps and thanks again for commenting.

      Also if you are going to try this, it's worth knowing that at the moment this only happens on but I would imagine that will roll out to the UK sometime next year so it's still worth being aware of.

    • Seriously Google; why do you have to make things so complicated?!

      Complete contradiction.

      Thanks for going into so much detail though Neil; interesting stuff even if it hasn't revealed any concrete answers!

    • And Craig; I agree we're probably best erring on the side of caution with this one.

      At least until Google does decide to bring out some clear-cut guidelines (I won't be holding my breath).

  16. Very informative and interesting read Craig. Even if competitions aren't allowed according to the Google Plus rules I'm sure there are other ways we can find of making the most of this info. I honestly was not aware of how much effect the little ol' +1 button was having on search results.

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    • Craig Bradford

      Thanks Teresha, yes I agree, as I've said above in other comments there are other ways that are in the guidelines to get the same action it's just a little bit harder. Good luck and thanks for your comment.

  17. Hi Craig,
    New kid on the block. Thanks for this insight. Bit general, but it is def time to getting rolling on the G. See if I can get my head around it. ty.

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  18. That's some interesting stuff!
    But, how much of a SERP "push" would a site get from +1's. Would it only move up a few spots, e.g. from page 2 to page 1? Cause getting a site to page 2 or 3 still requires a lot of work (link/content building).
    Could you get a site from page 10 to page 1 by just "building bubbles"?

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  19. Great post but I am alarmed at the manipulation and personalised filtering applied by Google. How can SEO companies achieve repeatable, sustainable and rankings for our clients if Google introduces such personalisation when logged in to Google Plus One or not logged in to Google Plus One? I fail to see the releavance and how this improves user experience as I will most likely see in SERPs what I prefer to see rather than what I want to see in relation to my search query.

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  20. You know, after reading this article my eyes have been opened to the possibilities. Thanks for the analogy on the celebrities. To think that one plus from one person can change the scope of search for 5million people is very powerful. Hmmm my thoughts are spinning...

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  21. So for people to +1 something they need to have a +1 account. Seeing as the majority of people have either a FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn account - I cant see any customer signing up for G+ just to +1 a product. As you suggest - maybe if Beckham or Gaga release a new song via G+ it may inspire a few people to sign up - but as for the majority I dont they will. I'd love to know how much weight Google put a +1 compared to a 'Like' or twitter tag trend.

    So all I really need is to find a famous friend - with lots of followers on G+... I wont hold my breath on that one.

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  22. Personalised SERPs certainly appear to be Google's strategy, with G+ at the heart of it. Will it make the SERPs more useful to users? Probably not. Will it lead to more subscribers to G+? Probably yes. Will it lead to G+ becoming a threat to Facebook and Twitter? Unfortunately not, as G+ will be a marketers tool, nothing else. I am not entirely sure where Google are going with this, as they only seem to be pushing G+ to SEOs at the moment...

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