SEO Psychology Needs to Learn the APA Format

SEO Psychology Needs to Learn the APA Format

Brent Berger, Search Engine Studio, Hollywood, California

January 21, 2014


 So what does the American Psychology Association know about web design and publishing information to the masses, and why is this important to the future of Search and Web Publication.  A couple MAJOR things come to mind.  1) They have been doing it since 1892. 2) it is the absolute standard for any social or behavioral science peer reviewed journal (including Psychology, Business, Criminology, Economics, Education, Sociology). 3) They are annoyingly excellent at created rules, guidelines, and suggestions that help in the acceptance of research, dissertation, and symposium submissions for publication.

Google Algorithm Updates

American Psychological Association (APA) Style is a set of rules to ensure clarity of communication, designed to “move the idea forward with a minimum of distraction and a maximum of precision.”  The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association contains the rules for every aspect of writing, especially in the social sciences from determining authorship to constructing a table to avoiding plagiarism and constructing accurate reference citations. “The General Format of APA is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences


The time has come for companies seeking to get their web marketing communications found to learn from obsessive rules of the American Psychological Association.


Topics will include among other things content and organization of the manuscript.


  1. 1.     Expressing ideas and reducing bias in language.
  2. 2.     Appropriate Format and Guidelines. 
  3. 3.     Accepted journals and websites
  4. 4.     Ethics
  5. 5.     Reference

 The director of engineering at Google is gentleman by the name Raymond Kurzweil, he is a transhumanist, a futurist, and engineer who hold dozens of patents in areas such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, and speech recognition.  Among other things he is often referred to as the father of artificial intelligence (AI).

Artificial intelligence is the science and mathematics that defines and develops algorithms to help computers become more like human beings. It often deals quite extensively with Robots, Robotics, and the software communications to make them work.

Search and Robots have been integrated from the start of the Internet.  In fact, in their foundation, search engines were often referred to as “robots” that would crawl websites for content and then store that content in indexes for quick access.  Although the search engines of today are vastly more powerful, Robots still play an important role. WordPress,, Joomla, and Drupal content management systems encompass more than 75% of web sites developed and accessible on the web today. A specific file called “robots.txt” file tells the search engines whether or not to crawl a specific page of the internet and is the first thing that every search engine looks for when crawling a site.  By triggering the search engine to “yes” crawl the site, the webmaster initiates a series of code that helps search engines categorize, measure, and “understand” what the website is all about.

In 2013 Google, the by far biggest player in search in the North America released a series updates to their updates of their proprietary (and awesome) algorithm.  Panda and Penguin (See below) were design with the “penalty” concept in mind – but Hummingbird (August of 2013) was designed to entirely change the ranking algorithm.  This update is not about getting rid of Spam or moving sites with low quality content down in the Search Engine Result Page (SERP), it is about making Google respond to Search Intent, and not just Keywords in a query.


In other words, Hummingbird is about UNDERSTANDING what the human meant when they entered a search term.

In exploring this interrelationship between search engines understanding what you meant and you typing (or saying) what you mean is a massive execution of Artificial Intelligence applied to Search.

If Search Engines are going to reliably understand humans, then humans are going to have to start saying what they mean.  Creative Studio B is excited about this new change as it is without a doubt the biggest thing to happen to search, in the history of search.  All along Google Employees like its Head of Web Spam Matt Cutts have been saying things like “natural language” and “avoid keyword stuffing.”  Now they have trained the algorithm (Google Robot) to know the difference.  Companies that speak like humans and share lots of information about a few very focused subjects will naturally rank higher in the SERPs.  This makes sense; it is like talking to a colleague at a cocktail party or speaking to a professor.  Pretty quickly, you know whether or not that person knows a little bit or lot bit about what they are talking about.  It is a human attribute to be able to “problem solve,” it is part of our psychological make up and one of the things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.  In psychology, we call it the Perceptual Cycle.

Intelligent Agents

We take in information that is presented as a stimulus (reception), then process that information into known and unknown measures (cognition), and then react to that stimulus by incorporating data (schema) that we believe to be relevant to the stimulus and then react (response).  This model is not too different than the way that AI works, and subsequently how the search engines are trained.

Search Bar

Artificial Intelligence describes this psychological process in a slightly different way – but the triggers are the same.  An Intelligent Agent has the ability to perceive data using a plethora of sensors (read what is on a page, see what you typed in, etc.).  It then takes this data in and uses additional “knowledge” that it acquires from a series of sources (the internet, hard coded rules, library of congress, etc.), processes that data and then utilizing a series of actuators (rules, math’s) it provides a response.

Using raw data, computers are amazing at this type of task.  With faster processors, better software, and ever improved algorithms, they are getting better and better at providing correct and reliable answers.  Until now, we accepted the fact that if a search engine got it wrong, it was because we entered in an incorrect search (we messed up typing it or we typed the wrong thing).  Now, by utilizing AI, the search engine provides the result that you MEANT, and this is not necessarily what you typed.

There are number of principles of psychology that play a role in allowing us to interact with, control, and help these AI Agents learn.  In this case we are most concerned with the Search Agents being developed by Google, Microsoft Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu.

As Search Robots consistently get updated, they are designed to learn more and more about the human being that is doing the searching.  Years ago “searchers” were trained to think in categories, then trained again to think in keywords.

Keywords are out.

As these devices become more and more Internet enabled, they will have access to more and more information and will be able to vastly improve the rate at which they learn.  In just months to come we will find ourselves speaking to our car dashboards, our watches, or our television sets.  The field has been leveled, as we don’t necessarily speak the same way that we type.

Siri Search

When you see a search box like the one above – it comes with a series of know silent instructions.  That little box means – type what you want here.  For decades we have been trained on Boolean search, selecting categories of keywords that we help us on our way.  Clicking page after page of results until one of two things happen 1) we find what we are looking for or 2) we change our search term.  We have all gotten very good at this process and some people even go so far as to put how “good” they are at it on their resume.  Well that’s all about to change.

Now search is going to be performed by asking questions, clicking a button on your steering wheel and having your car talk back for example. The way that we ask questions is significantly different than how we type them into search boxes.  Consequently, the way that we encode data for search engines needs to change.  So back to that whole APA thing.

  • One very large stumbling block to the computers ability to find information is the categorical manner in which that information is referenced.  Nobody is better or more meticulous at defining the criteria for referencing ideas thoughts papers images graphs and opinions then the American Psychological Association.

Psychology in general looks at a number of different things; foundations of learning, environmental influences as well as chemical influences, personality, abnormal behavior, happiness, fear, anxiety, stress, and situational awareness.  These factors are so “soft” and elusive by nature that Psychology is therefore not considered one of the Hard Sciences.  To counter this perception for over 100 years, Psychologists have been confined to criteria that allowed their research to conducted in a highly controlled, reported with excruciating detail and subjected to extremely narrow statistical analysis.  In addition, if a psychologist wanted to take credit for “anything” they needed to publish finding in peer-reviewed journals that were deemed to be acceptable by the APA.

  • This process is basically like saying “I discovered something neat, but now all of you have to prove me wrong.”  The APA Guide covers  75 pages on Accepted journals and websites.
  • The APA guide has over 100 pages of rules on how to properly cite and reference knowledge, charts, graphs, facts, figures, ideas, and words that are not your own.  If you fail to cite any of these properly, you are penalized and often your work will not be published.
  • The APA has over 100 pages of rules on expressing ideas and reducing bias in language.  The basically tell you how to pull “personal opinion” or what it calls “experimenter bias” out of your reporting process.  Just the facts, please.
  • The APA Guide has over 100 pages on Appropriate Format and Guidelines.   These rules cover titles, abstracts, description in charts and graphs, font size, font style, paper size and material and just about everything else you can think of.
  • Finally, The APA guide covers over 100 pages on Ethics, penalizing those that do not follow the rules by removing their content from publication.

Getting an article published one of these pure review journals is an extreme task that many people with PhD’s are never able to achieve.  The rules established by the APA keep everyone honest and make it so that the only content that becomes part of the “Global Body of Knowledge” passes a series of difficult tests tat require hard work, clarity, and extreme focus.

It seems like much of what we see in the APA parallels Google’s mindset in their recent Panda, Penguin, and now Hummingbird updates.

My father a renowned Neurologist once told me that the Journal of Opinion comes out daily but the Journal of Fact only every once a while.  It looks like the web might be catching on to that advice.


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