Anyone who understands how Search Engine Optimization (SEO) works understands that Google has a big say in what web pages and what content appears at the top of search results pages. Google tells us that unbiased computer algorithms decide whose content appears first. They tell us that search terms are the primary factor determining how close to the top of a results page a given piece of material will appear. But this is false.
Algorithms, for one thing, are written by human beings and can be biased to favor certain types of content. Of course, we do not expect anyone or anything to be totally free of bias. But we expect people to be honest about their editorial choices- especially when they run the world’s largest publishing organization. But at Google, there is also a vast army of human beings in charge of deciding what results show up first.
Online marketers study Google rankings intensely. What they are told is that to have a better SEO rank they need to have original content, that they should make heavy use of backlinks (links to their own sites and material), that they should optimize the user experience and mobile compatibility, that they should use H2 and H3 headings, and so forth.
But it turns out that things are not so simple.
If you’re a conservative, post conservative content, or follow those who do- then this should not be surprising to you. But academia is finally catching up with us.
According to researchers at Northwestern University, Google has a strong left leaning bias. The data they have compiled shows that even if you follow all of the SEO best practices we talked about above if your material contains keywords and phrases identified as “conservative” then your content will never appear at the top of a Google search page.
The researchers deployed an algorithm of their own designed to study Google’s search rank results. They found that news outlets like the New York Times and CNN consistently appeared above comparable conservative outlets like The Drudge report, Gateway Pundit, and Breitbart.
They started by looking at the 6,302 articles that appeared in the Google “top stories” box in 2017. 62% of all the stories highlighted this way were left leaning. CNN’s material appeared 10% of the time, while Fox News articles made up just 3% of everything Google considered to be “top stories” according to a Columbia Journalism Review. Any way you slice it, that is not honest.
Here’s what the Daily Mail had to say on these findings:
“Nearly all (86%) of the top news stories came from only 20 sources and of those sources, 62% have a strong left-leaning bias.
The research reveals the unprecedented level of power Google has in influencing user traffic to news sites, a big deal in terms of media and politics in light of Facebook’s recently reduced output.
The researchers found CNN got a 24% boost in traffic by having its stories featured in Google’s ‘Top Stories’ box.
The most featured sources, in order of prominence, were CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News, BBC, USA Today, LA Times, The Guardian, Politico, ABC News, CBS News, NPR, NBC News, CNBC, Reuters, Huffington Post, The Verge, Al Jazeera, The Hill and People.”
Interestingly, the former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was the subject of no less than 38 articles in 2017. But 75% of pieces that received SEO boosting from Google came from CNN and the New York Times.
The data also shows that left leaning sites produced more than twice the material on the same subject as right leaning sites. The information provided by the left was not greater, they only repeat the same information in different ways.
Students of human psychology and experienced police detectives will tell you that saying the same things more often is a sign of dishonesty- or guilt.
Columbia Journalism Review writes, “In Google Top Stories, that ratio was 3.2, indicating that the curation algorithm was magnifying the left-leaning skew.”
The report from Northwestern University concludes, “If they are serious about promoting digital-first newsrooms, algorithmic news curators, like Google and others, should be more explicit in articulating design tradeoffs between desirable relevance for individuals, the desirable diversity for society or democracy, and the fair competition expected of news organizations.”