We’ve managed to keep our blog out of the political fray, but today, we thought we’d try something different. In the interest of open discussion of topics relevant to Internet culture and the tech scene, we decided to evaluate President Donald Trump’s recent comments about Google and potential bias in yielding up search results. As a marketing firm, we feel our insights into the world of SEO, complex learning algorithms, and possible search engine results page (SERP) manipulation might be helpful in determining the validity of these tech claims.
Gerry’s Two Cents
He’s gone after the media, Facebook, and Twitter (among many others); everyone’s against him apparently, and now it seems as if Google is one of the bad guys, too. Whoopee! As usual, there is little, if any merit, to the President’s claims as there is a complete lack of evidence to support the position that the tech giant is out to get him. Let’s discuss. Here is Trump’s Tweet:
“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. 96% of results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”
There’s a lot to unpack here. The first thing I want to note is that when I search for “Trump News” on Google, Fox News ranks among the top search results for that query – specifically, a story about Tiger Woods’ “respect the office” statement. That’s a direct refutation of the claim that Google shows “only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media” (Trump’s definition of fake news media decidedly does not include Fox News).
But, Trump is making a larger claim here that there is political bias embedded within the algorithm system that determines which websites get served up first in the results. Statistically, most of the clicks on any given search will go to the websites ranked higher up on the SERP. Most people simply don’t scroll past the first page. That’s the whole point of search engine optimization (SEO). Although no one knows the proprietary formula of Google’s algorithm set, there are established best practices that, if followed, allow a website to rank higher in the search results for any given keyword search.
Those practices include optimizing the backend of the website by rewriting title tags, meta descriptions, on-page content with targeted keywords, header tags and keyword phrases, internal page links with anchor text, etc. The list goes on. Companies spend thousands of dollars each month on SEO services. Entire departments are created for that very purpose. That’s part of the reason I’m here writing this blog in the first place, along with my colleague, Kyle – to boost our company’s SEO. To accuse a global search engine like Google of deliberately skewing the results to favor a certain political disposition is a serious charge that ultimately dismisses the efficacy of such marketing practices.
So, where’s the evidence of such a conspiracy? An article by PJ Media appears to be the source of Trump’s statement that 96% of the search results of “Trump News” are from “National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous.” That certainly may be, but does that mean that Google is biased in how it serves up search results? Of course not. There are other variables to consider. The most glaring one is that perhaps most of the national media outlets are left-leaning, and thus, the relevant search results to “Trump News” are mostly negative in nature.
Note that the PJ Media article relied almost exclusively on a chart of media outlets put together by Sharyl Attkisson, a right-wing media critic. However, even if we concede that most of the news organizations are politically biased, that still does not mean that Google itself is biased in serving them up as results to a query. Perhaps there are simply more negative news stories out there about the President than positive. Perhaps those left-leaning media outlets simply employ better SEO practices.
It is telling that a simple Google search of “Hillary Clinton” yields news stories from Daily Caller and Sputnik, both about her emails. If there is political bias at play here, it isn’t a very consistent bias. Trump, along with the author of the PJ Media article, jump to the conclusion that bias is at play without any concrete evidence. Correlation is not causation. To claim otherwise is a logical fallacy. The article – which basically makes the assertion that because so many Trump-related news stories are negative, the search engine itself must be biased – is plainly guilty of this logical fallacy. Trump, then, probably took the bait and ran with it after the article was circulated by Lou Dobbs of Fox News. Thus, a conspiracy is born.
The bottom line here is that there is simply no evidence of political bias. Google is a business whose interests are best served by giving people the results they want. The way it determines what people want is a complex process, to be sure, and it’s a personalized process. What shows up in the results for a given search term may vary depending on the user’s online behavior.
Google uses predictive analysis to determine which websites you are more likely to engage with as part of their search algorithm. In that sense, Google is sort of like a mirror, reflecting both what’s out there in the wide expanse of the Internet and your own personal tastes.
On that note, here’s a little joke for you. Man looks into a mirror. Doesn’t like what he sees. So, what does he do? He blames the mirror and Tweets about it. Says the mirror is biased against him. Calls it a fake mirror. Ha-ha, right… right?
Kyle’s Two Cents
I’m going to state at the front here that I do consider myself conservative, yet, more moderate in my political leanings.
And from where I’m standing, I do see a bias against Trump in the media.
The common rebuttal to this is “well the news is only reporting the truth.”
That was the same argument they used for George W. Bush, the last Republican party president before Trump.
I would like to point out that with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the last two democratic party presidents that we had, the news portrayed them in a more favorable light. They didn’t do much that was wrong in the eyes of the news.
And that bugs me.
It didn’t matter that Obama’s Universal Health Care (Obamacare) actually drove insurance premiums up and penalized people for NOT having health care. Since it was from Obama’s lips, it was a great idea and anyone who disagreed with it was ostracized in the news.
Clinton lied under oath, while in office, about his extramarital affairs, and was let off the hook.
Yet, these two presidents are held in high regard. It’s as if they’ve done nothing wrong – at all – while in office.
As for Trump, I feel he’s been the most criticized president ever. From the moment he announced his campaign, the jokes rained down and when he became president there was overwhelming dissension in the American public.
Or maybe that was only what was covered in the news?
Google, being the most popular search engine in the world, is in prime position to sway public opinion. They can do this not by what they show, but by what they don’t show. By keeping out anything positive about Trump, they can easily make Trump look like a horrible person.
But Gerry does bring up a good point- companies spend thousands of dollars optimizing their web pages and the information they put on them. It’s an industry in and of itself. Google, as big as it is, doesn’t have the ability to mess with the SEO of all those pages. The coding for it alone would take years to perfect.
Therefore, Google may be off the hook. That is unless this really is a conspiracy and they’ve been working on it for years to make sure only bad news gets returned on a search centered around Trump.
What I feel is really happening is these left-leaning news sites, which dominate the internet, are only putting out bad news about Trump. I’ve seen numerous stories of things Trump has done which are good. But to find those stories, I have to do searching myself to find specific sites that report stories like that.
Thus, Google is really just the bearer of bad news here- figuratively, literally, and digitally.
Trump may be going after Google to highlight the bigger issue here.
This may not be the smartest strategy, in my opinion. Then again, I’m a content manager in San Antonio, and he’s the President of the United States. So what do I know?
But I digress.
I see validity in Trump’s claim that Google is only reporting bad news.
Yet, it’s the news sites that are putting out the bad news about him en masse.
In that regard, Gerry’s mirror analogy is flawed. Google may be only reflecting how other people see Trump.
And he doesn’t like how they see him.
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