Google exposes it is biased against you

What are you really looking for online? To buy things or information? Google thinks you are only shopping.Shoppers will love Google’s latest change; the rest of the world will begin to realise that the company appears to be seeking cash, instead of really trying to help us find things. Yesterday, amidst much fanfare, Google launched a changed to its system claiming it was providing “search at the speed of thought”. This is patent nonsense of course; your thought has to be translated into muscular movement in your fingers to type some words, which then have to be searched for by Google and then the results have to be transmitted back and you have to read them. In the space of even the quickest Google search you’ve had several more thoughts – including, perhaps, “Google is trying to control me”. Why?

The changes that Google started yesterday mean we get “instant search results”. As soon as you enter one letter, results are provided. As you type more letters for your keyword the results change. So have a go at typing in single letters and see what instant results you get. Some 90% of the time you get a shopping site – a is for Argos, c is for Currys, d is for Debenhams, e is for eBay and so on. Yet pop over to Google Zeitgeist (where Google shows us the most popular search terms) and you will not find most of those words. Last year, for instance, the most popular word beginning with “t” was Twitter, according to Google’s own figures. So what does it give you if you type in the letter T now? Yes, that’s right, Tesco. In fact the entire front page of results for the letter T are Tesco because it has assumed you want Tesco, when actually most people who start typing with the letter T probably do not want Tesco at all – and Google’s own public data suggest that to be the case.

So why is Google giving us skewed results? Well, Google loves brands. Over a year ago Google changed its algorithm to favour brands. You don’t suppose that by doing so they make themselves more attractive to advertisers with big money do you? Only recently I was with a director of a big brand who spends several million pounds a year on Google AdWords. Why? I asked. They were already number one on Google for every single one of their most favoured keywords, without advertising. They were also a “tip of the tongue” company for their subject thanks to TV and press advertising, costing them millions more. Why did they advertise on Google? They had no real answer other than “well you have to don’t you?”. Err…no…!

According to Google, we love brands. According to much recent research, the impact of brands is lessening and we are much more likely to buy things our friends recommend, even if we have never heard of the brand. As social tools become more omnipresent, we rely less on brand name and more on value and recommendations. As the world is going in one direction, Google appears to be going in another.

There is one other problem with the Google Instant search – it interrupts your thinking. You could get diverted away from what you did want. Type in T for Twitter and before you know it you are buying a new TV at Tesco.

Next time you are on Google, look to the right of the search box – there is a small pop-up link. Click on it and switch off “Instant Search” and while you are at it, if you use Google Toolbar, make sure you uncheck the “suggestions” option in the “Manage” area.

After all, who do you want to be in charge of your search thinking? You or Google?

At the moment, these changes suggest Google want to be in charge of your thoughts and take them over to direct you to their favoured shopping sites. This could be a change too far for Google, especially in the emerging world of social search. Shoppers will love the Google change – but the rest of the world might not.

15 thoughts on “Google exposes it is biased against you”

  1. One option would be to logout of your google account when you search, another may be to use another search engine. It's no use being annoyed about 'manipulation' and still using the same search engine, use another.

    Bing is probably sitting here rubbing it's hands in glee 😉

    • "logout of your google account when you search". I wish I could remember where I read this but there was evidence to suggest that results where still personalised even when logged out so possibly it was related to IP as well as your account.

      "It's no use being annoyed about 'manipulation' and still using the same search engine, use another."
      I agree 100%.

  2. Not forgetting of course the negative impact it will have on Adwords impressions as they appear automatically for unrelated searches…well at least unrelated as far as original visitor intent is concerned.

  3. Good article in general Graham but I disagree on one thing. I know you said that Twitter was the biggest search term with a T in Google last year but I would ask why would anyone go to Google to search for Twitter? Am I missing something or is 90% of the World's population really thick?

    • Some people google everything Graham, they never bookmark posts they use google for everything *sigh*, If only I wasn't so lazy as to bookmark a post or forum that I liked 🙂

    • "why would anyone go to Google to search for Twitter?"
      Its amazing but it happens much more than you think. People will avoid the URL bar and just type it in google as its "easier" , they don't know any better or they think they don't know.

      "Am I missing something or is 90% of the World's population really thick?"
      Its true.

    • Graham, when I used to monitor the stats for how people came to my website, I was constantly astonished by how many people would enter the URL in Google rather than simply in their browser bar to "find" us.

      As you imply in this blog post, I actually think this is quite a cynical and sinister move by Google and may well lose them lots of fans in due course.

  4. With the increasing use of mobile devices (smart phones, iPad etc…) I would expect Google Instant search to become more location based. GPS capable devices would enable instant search results to point you to a local establishment probably 20 mtrs away. Type in an S and you will get a paid for search result for Starbucks and showing you that there was a 10% off a latte at the Starbucks 20 mtrs in the direction you are going with a Google map to help you. Gives a whole new meaning to instant coffee! It really doesn't matter if the search users don't like Instant Search so long as the advertisers do. If it works for Google then the other search engines will have to inevitably follow.

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