The Interplay Between Browsing, Searching and Recommendation

December 30, 2021

When we look back a generation, people worked really hard to seek information; which consisted of spending hundreds of hours pouring over numerous books, journals or research material in the libraries.

After the invention of the Internet, this process became less tiring and has only become simpler and more intuitive as the years are passing by. Yet when we look back, the style of accessing information on the internet has changed drastically over the past 3 decades which namely are:

  • Browsing
  • Searching
  • Recommendation

We will be covering the first two items in the first part of this article.

1. Browse

Consider this- You are in a library and you want to pick a few books on History to read. So you approach the librarian and he directs you to the History section where there are numerous books to choose from. So you go through all of them to select something closest to what you were looking for. You may or may not find exactly what you were searching. This is approximately how the earliest browsing system worked.

The earliest forms of browsing happened via portal websites such as the now defunct America Online. They were a directory of different URLs and were similar to the earliest forms of newspapers. They had a large centralised collection of content curated by human editors and displayed and organised on the website by an editorial staff. The editors decided which content should be displayed on the top and so forth. Before the advent of the Search Engines, the only way to look for a particular information on the Internet back then was to know the exact URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of the page or the file. No user behaviour was recorded.


Around this time, the first web browser called Mosaic was developed as well. Inspired by Sir Tim Berner-Lee’s WorldWideWeb which worked solely on NeXT computers, Mosaic became the first easy-to-install web browser with graphic capabilities that could be installed on most computers. Essentially it became a window to access the wide web of the Internet. Users now were no longer dependent only on a portal site’s list of URLs; they had the freedom to access any website of their choice via a browser. Post Mosaic, other browsers like Netscape, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome became available for users to download and install easily, widening the accessibility to the Internet.


2. Search

Now you go to the same library with a specific query- to read the book Hitler by Ian Kershaw. The librarian, instead of showing you to the History section, searches through their book-keeping software to find where the book is located (provided they do have it), and then hands it to you.

This is how the search function works which formed the 2nd period of the Internet in the mid-1990s. The web became too big to be indexed manually as more and more people started to set up their own websites and blogs to publish online. The Search Engines solved the issue of locating information across a vast sea of web content.

The user has an idea of what they are looking for and types in the approximate keywords to seek that information. They now are not merely browsing through the vague content that’s readily available on the web.


The advent of Search Engines like Yahoo, Google and Bing saw a huge shift in how information/product/services were sought after. Searching became more efficient and accurate with only one major drawback- the user must know the term they wished to search for. This made search less user friendly for news and entertainment which hold a major discovery element.

3. Recommendation

This problem was solved by the recommendation algorithm which formed the 3rd wave of the internet which is the most recent. This change started with the invention of a new machine learning algorithm called Sibyl by Google in 2011. Sibyl makes predictions and recommendations on the basis of user behavior across Google’s applications namely YouTube and Gmail. Sibyl was a revolutionary change of how content started to get displayed for different users.

Users no longer had to search for information; instead the information came willingly to them. It removed the requirement to think about specific keywords to type onto the search bar or to subscribe to channels. Recommendation infers the user’s preferences based on their previous behaviour. In many instances where users didn’t have a clear cut view of exactly what they wanted, the recommendation algorithm gave them suggestions of what they might like which only got more and more accurate with the corresponding years. It also became more intuitive about predicting the user’s exact query as shown in the image below:


Google further optimised the recommendation system of Sibyl to form Google Brain which further leveraged new advances in deep learning. In the years 2014-2017, it was noted that the average time spent watching videos on YouTube had increased by twenty times due to the placement of ‘Recommended Videos’ on the homepage.


It’s like based on your earlier choice of picking the book Hitler by Ian Kershaw, the librarian now knows your preference and suggests you books like Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the 20th Century and Anatomy of a Genocide whose existance you weren’t even aware of.

The importance of the recommendation was especially noticed in e-commerce where prompts such as- ‘Customers who bought this item also bought…’ made users to purchase more from the website.

This major shift from ‘people looking for information’ to ‘information looking for people’ gave rise to new companies, one of which was TikTok.

TikTok took inspiration from YouTube’s video recommendation and Amazon’s product recommendation to start a platform that generates a continuous stream of short 15 sec completely customized to each viewer’s taste and liking.

For example, if a user A likes watching cat videos, then based on TikTok’s AI’s calculation of other similar users, it’ll recommend funny animal videos to user A as well. The internet is now beginning to flood with applications which instead of proactively pulling search information from users,it pushes information onto them based on similar queries made earlier. The AI is constantly collecting user information in order to make their recommendation more accurate.

4. What’s the future?

The Internet is now advancing rapidly to become more and more intuitive. In the future we might be surprised by the advanced technology where maybe we only have to ‘think’ about something for it to get displayed on our screens. The reality of that happening might be closer than we think it is.

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Cognitive Heuristics: Leveraging Them to Boost Sales With Examples

December 23, 2021

Humans approximately make 35,000 choices per day with approximately 2,000 decisions per hour or one decision in every two seconds.

Do you think this enormous figure really holds true? Surprisingly, yes, numerous eminent psychologists and neuroscientists have found this to be true. When you start to really think about it, we have become used to a vast variety of choices; in fact we expect them. The choices/options are endless when purchasing a commodity on Amazon or browsing through Google.

It sounds overwhelming! But our brain has a strategy to counter it: relying on heuristics.

We use heuristics in all types of situations. These are mental shortcuts that help us to facilitate problem-solving, and decision making. These strategies are generalizations that reduce the cognitive load and can be effective for making immediate judgments.

In this article I will discuss three types of heuristics and how marketers can leverage them to impact their sales effectively:

  • Availability Heuristic
  • Anchoring Heuristic
  • Scarcity Heuristic

1. Availability Heuristic

We have been taught not to assume yet our mind is conditioned to do so. For example, we assume that a person with a lab coat is a doctor, or a man with triceps is a fitness freak. Our brains are wired to make quick decisions and assumptions, and this heuristic directs us to use the information that is most readily available.

The availability heuristic is a bias in which a person relies on immediate information (as a consequence), often easily recalled information when making a decision. The person may also ignore less easily recalled information even if it is statistically more important and valuable. This heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than the alternatives that are not easily recalled.

When deciding which chips to buy, you may choose Lays or Pringles because it comes to mind faster. You may have chosen another brand if you had more information available on that brand. We often rely on how easy it is to think of examples when deciding.



Some other examples may be: A customer believes that a business will run a discount or a sale campaign because they have done so in the past. A lead would believe that the product or service is good after they see the posts and ads of a particular product or service offered online and are likely to get converted.

Subjecting consumers to a product/brand that stands out from the competition gets registered on an emotional level and triggers an immediate recall at the slightest stimulation. This occurs because the brain has ‘saved’ the product as a mental shortcut and can reciprocate the memory/emotion attached to it in the future. It is vital for the brand/product to be ‘mentally available’, that is, to easily come to mind when the consumer is exploring what options are available to them.

One way to employ this heuristic is by showing success stories of the product/brand on its landing page. For example, you may post a picture of a prize that your brand received 2 years ago in some virtually unimportant contest. The buyer then makes a quick decision that this brand must be a good one based on the most recent available information.



Some other ways marketers have implemented this heuristic in their strategy are by:

  • Publishing blogs, press releases and other promotional content to create buzz around a product launch.
  • Journalists using sensationalism in news headlines
  • Advertising campaigns casting celebrities as brand ambassadors.

2. Anchoring Heuristic

Wansink, Kent, and Hoch studied how multiple pricing of the products increased supermarket sales. On sale were either “4 rolls of Bathroom Tissues for $2” or On sale, “$0.50 for one roll”.

The researchers found that the buyers were more attracted towards multiple units than the single units pricing even though the sale value was the same. The multiple unit pricing performed 40% better than single unit pricing. Wonder why?

The brain used the number four as the anchor.

When buyers are trying to make a decision, they often use a reference point or an anchor to start. It is human tendency to rely on the first piece of information offered (anchor) when making decisions. Once the anchor is set, decisions are made by adjusting the initial anchor number, regardless of the legitimacy of the actual anchor number.

For example, a real estate agent lists a house at a higher price than its actual value, and the potential buyer will use that price as an anchor to further negotiate it down until they reach their desired price.

Experiments have mentioned that merely mentioning or showing a number has influenced participants’ numerical judgements. For example, in one experiment participants were asked to use a roulette wheel that was rigged to stop either at 10 or 65 (Participants were not aware of this). They were subsequently asked to estimate the percentage of United Nations members that were from African countries. Participants whose wheel had stopped on 10 (25% approximately) guessed lower values than participants whose wheel had stopped at 65 (45% approximately).

In marketing, brands use the anchoring heuristic strategically to set a product’s price point. An effective way of doing this is to present relatively expensive options and then introduce discounts to create a certain bias. This type of product pricing lets the user take advantage of the lower price as an anchor for a higher priced product.

Another strategy is to introduce either a higher or lower priced product first depending on how they want to influence a consumer’s subsequent decision. If the marketers start by introducing a higher priced model first, then the lower priced model would look like a better deal.

Marketers can also utilise leverage this principle by:

  • Picking prices ending in 99: The customers tend to latch onto the number before the decimal point (that is, 99) as an anchor. For example:


  • Make discounts more attractive: Marketers could indicate the price difference as a percentage. When customers see a sale price, they do not quickly calculate how much they are actually saving but get anchored to the percentage off, for example, “50% off” and register “What a bargain! Don’t miss out!”


3. Scarcity Heuristic

Items or products that are rare or limited are often valuable and having these items in your possession shows others that you are unique and interesting. One can drive people to use the product by creating a perception of scarcity. Buyers are likely to engage in a behaviour that makes them part of an exclusive group. Users are more likely to purchase an item now versus waiting for it later if they know the products are limited in terms of quantity.

In a study conducted, researchers asked the participants to rate the quality and amount they would be willing to pay for cookies from two jars: one containing ten cookies and the other one containing two cookies. Results of the study indicated that individuals rated the jar with less cookies as higher quality and that they were willing to pay 10% extra for them. The cookie jar that went from abundance to scarce were rated more valuable and higher in quality than those that were constantly scarce.


Many e-commerce sites inspire the scarcity heuristic by displaying Limited number or Limited time deal offers. For example:




Just the fact that the offer is limited in terms of time and quantity, it creates a heuristic or mental shortcut. It immediately places a high value on the product.

Interestingly, research has indicated that even if the consumer feels that the scarcity portrayed is fabricated, a marketing ploy, they will still feel an urge to buy so they miss out. That is why it is a heuristic; logic is replaced with the urge to avoid missing out on something.

4. How Scarcity made Clubhouse the trending app in 2021?

In April 2020, a social networking app named clubhouse was launched that facilitated connection through audio conversations. The conversations are scheduled and organized in rooms with specific topics and speakers. Users have the option to jump from room to room and listen to any conversations. Many people have turned to this application to learn about interesting topics, network with professionals and hear from CEOs or celebrities. The catch in this application that makes it unique is: it operates on invite-only principle, both in its admission process and in the conversation it hosts.

All the social networking apps operate on the principle ‘the more, the merrier’ by giving unlimited referrals to users. However, Clubhouse, by limiting the number of invitations, is making it seem more valuable and covetable. By leveraging the heuristic of Scarcity, they have not only gained more users but have also powerfully created a brand image. Clubhouse’s algorithm promoted FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in users who were not using the app. Everyone wanted to get into conversations with Elon Musk or Tiffany Haddish.

Further, Clubhouse employed invitations as a variable reward for continued usage. Users do not know how much they must use the app to get more invitations, thus when they receive the invitation, it’s a pleasant surprise. This creates a ripple effect when people talk about the app in future. Giving more invites to users who highly engage also benefits Clubhouse’s user base.

Some of the ways by which marketers can leverage this heuristic is by:

  • Giving incentives, offers, or freebies to the first few customers (100 or 1000) who sign up.
  • Having limited time offers, sales or discounts
  • Using low stock notices which incentivize customers to purchase in the fear of losing out.
  • Displaying offer’s popularity / demand among users to increase purchases. For example, “122 people viewed this blog today”
  • Conclusion

    Not all decisions that consumers make are rational. They come with a big preferential baggage which influences their decision making. Marketers should consider heuristics when nudging potential customers who are further along in the conversion funnel and know their soft points to capitalize on their biases and influence their decision making to their benefit. Prompting prospects to take these mental shortcuts can be an effective blueprint for increasing sales.

    Do follow our LinkedIn page for updates: [ Myraah IO on LinkedIn ]