US presidential candidate Republican Mitt Romney can’t seem to catch a break even from Google. Not only does it suggest that he can’t win, if you start typing in Romney’s name, but if you disagree, Google tries to correct you.
Suggestion: Romney Can’t Win
Start typing in Romney, and Google as its top suggestion “romney can’t win,” as you can see below:
Did You Really Mean He Can Win?
Romney believers who ignore the suggestion and go on to search for “romney can win” get this response:
“Did you mean: romney can’t win” — that’s Google’s spell checking system kicking in.
Don’t Blame Us, Blame The Algorithms!
Slate appears to have spotted the funny correction first, and also notes that it doesn’t happen for any other Republican candidate; CBS News has exactly what you’d expect Google to say in response, that this is all down to automation:
Our spellcheck feature is automated, and while no algorithm is perfect, we’re always working to improve our search quality.
That’s true. But both the spelling correction and suggestion will come based on what actual people are doing.
Search-Off Says: “Can’t” Beats “Can” 5:1
The spelling correction system will look in part on what the most popular use of a word or phrase is across the web, to help spot errors. According to Google, pages with the exact phrase “romney can’t win” are beating those with the exact phrase “romney can win” by about 5 to 1:
The screenshot above shows that for a search on the “can’t” phrase, there are currently 339,000 matches across the billions of web pages that Google has found. In contrast, there are only 65,700 web pages that use the “can” phrase.
Is News Driving The Funny Suggestion?
The suggestions themselves are based on what people are searching for. For “romney can’t win” to appear, Google should be seeing a substantial number of people searching for that topic.
Interestingly, however, I can’t find that this term is popular enough to even register when using the Google Insights tool, which reports on the popularity of search topics at Google. When I tried searching for either phrase, no data was reported.
I also tried a check using another Google tool, the AdWords Keyword Research Tool. In that case, it reported that “can” searches happened, on average over the past 12 months, 590 times per month versus “can’t” searches at 110 times per month:
So if “can” searches beat “can’t” searches 5 to 1, why is Google’s suggestion tool — which is based on popular searches — suggesting the opposite?
There’s a very slight chance that someone generated enough queries purposely to trigger that suggestion. It’s possible, and some anti-Romney force might be clever enough to do this.
Much more likely, there’s been a recent upswing in searches for “romney can’t win” — most likely caused by attention to the spelling correction.
That’s especially supported by the fact that Bing doesn’t offer a similar suggestion. That indicates not many people are searching for “romney can’t win” at Bing — and since it doesn’t have a funny correction as Google does, they really wouldn’t be doing many search for that there.
NOTE: As pointed out in the comments below, while I’d entered my queries into the AdWords tool surrounded by quotes, that wasn’t enough to get Google to shift to reporting “exact phrase” counts for the term. If I’d ticked that option, “romney can’t win” searches were 16 per month versus “romney can win” at less than 10.
If those counts seems absurdly low, one reason is that until recently, probably few people were searching for this in either way. In the coming months, it should likely change.
Ya Coulda Been A Santorum…
While Romney won’t like the suggestion, at least he’s better off than Rick Santorum on Google. For more about that, see our past post: Should Rick Santorum’s “Google Problem” Be Fixed?
Postscript: I asked Google these questions:
- Is the spell check being heavily influenced by all the “can’t” phrases out there?
- Any reason why this wouldn’t have a spell check for other candidates?
- Which came first, the Did You Mean or the suggestion?
- Any idea how long that suggestion has been offered?
On the first two, they just referred back to the Did You Mean help page. They also told me they were unsure when it started appearing but the PR rep herself hadn’t heard of it until this day.