Is Google Biased?

Tony Goldstone

When using a search engine I like to think of myself as the client or customer and the search engine as a virtual consultant or advisor. I provide the virtual consultant with some information regarding what I am looking for and the virtual consultant refers to its database and presents links to sites ranked in importance related to the original data that I provided. So if I am looking for a car to buy I may enter the search term ‘cars for sale’. I may qualify this further with a location so I may enter ‘cars for sale +Worthing’. In response to this query I would hope to see a list of local car dealerships, garages, and maybe private sellers’ advertisements for their vehicles in the Worthing area. If the virtual consultant had responded with a list of what turns out to be different departments in the same garage I might be excused for thinking that my consultant was somewhat biased towards a particular business.

Whilst monitoring the search positions for one of our clients I have noted that Google doesn’t appear to be acting in my best interests as a client. If I enter the search term ‘antique desk’ into Google UK five of the links presented on page 1 are (at the time of writing) into Ebay. Whilst each of these links takes me into different, relevant areas of Ebay it feels rather like I’m getting the same message from my virtual consultant repeatedly saying ‘visit Ebay for antique desks’. This strikes me as somewhat biased.

As a client I would most ideally like to see a selection of distinct, relevant links presented to me in the SERPs. Since my search term did not explicitly state that I was aiming to purchase an antique desk I would hope that my consultant would take this into account and not limit the information returned to be only sites which are selling antique desks. Since Ebay has a large number of antique desks on auction, and it provides additional information on popular products including ‘desks’ I, as a client, think that it would be reasonable to be reminded that Ebay may be worth a visit in order to either learn more about antique desks or to search for suitable items amongst those available using the Ebay search facility. This could be achieved with two links. I would hope that my virtual consultant would not present me with multiple paths into various departments of what I recognise as the same business. Using my ‘cars for sale’ analogy, it would be like being provided with multiple links into various departments of a single vehicle auctioneers business. I would prefer to be advised of that auctioneers business and the relevant facilities that they provide but I’d also like to see a cross section of other businesses and online resources relevant to the search data that I originally provided, ideally within the first few SERPs.

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