• http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    Danny,

    (points to elephant in the room)

    The results will change and be biased as they should be.. @barackobama is the president of the united states.

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&newwindow=1&safe=active&spell=1&q=president&sa=X&ei=Ce-XUNezIZSuqAGf5ICgBg&ved=0CB4QvwUoAA&biw=1280&bih=675&changed_loc=1

  • danny76

    Maybe one day someone will take a hard look at Google Trends, and try to explain why they never showed “Benghazi” as a top search trend when volumes clearly dwarfed all their “hot searches” at the time.

  • http://twitter.com/hashtagdeals #HashTagDeals

    The bias — during an election year — is that Obama’s name is on the page multiple times. Go back in time 12 months and append Ron Paul or some other candidate’s name to half the posts. It will make a difference simply by being on the page.

  • Jenksy

    Once more, Danny, you leave the obvious floating about as if it were an anomaly, which is — by definition — either biased, or shit (read: CLULESS) journalism.

    Google’s algorithms are rooted in numbers. Algorithmic numbering is is based on quantity (as all mathematics is). Should a greater NUMBER develop for any given idea, it will express itself in Google’s engine as A..) More important, B.) More True, and C.) More Authoritative.

    Do you address this at all…?

    NOPE.

    Loathe as I am to admit it, others, in other posts have called you out, questioning whether or not you have ever ranked a website. At this point, I must wonder the same.

    Danny, my friend, at this point I am forced to conclude that you do not know your ass from your elbow concerning how search engines operate.

    Do us all a favor and attempt to rank a site that does not deserve to rank on page 1 Danny — you, and all the rest of us will learn much over the course of the process.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Carl, first, I’m hoping to get Google to explain more. But the popularity in searches doesn’t equal the popularity in second searches. IE, lots of people who search for Obama may go on to search for Iran. Lots of people who search for Romney might not.

  • http://www.gabrielweinberg.com/ Gabriel Weinberg

    Hey Danny, a few comments on the above based on our study.

    –The results that are inserted do generally seem more Obama-friendly than not. The most common source inserted was Huffington Post and we also saw other left-leaning orgs more than right-learning or neutral orgs. Again, like you I think this is a simple consequence of the algorithm, e.g. it is likely these sources cover Obama more, but it is nevertheless true.

    –Even if they were completely neutral sources about Obama generally, I still think that biases things because of availability bias, which is a powerful form of bias documented again and again. The more you see something, especially in a research context, the more you’re comfortable with it, likely to recall it, etc.

    –In our study people did search at the same time, and we saw a lot of variation across the users in these inserted-results that appeared to be because of personal signals (but again, impossible to tell). Some people never got it, some more than others and in different places. So I agree magic keywords in general seem like mass-customization, but as they seem to be applied in a personal manner they create their own filter-bubble.

    –I agree with you not being able to opt-out is particularly troublesome. On that, most people — especially outside the US and on Google Apps — did not have a toggle. And even when they did have the toggle, it appeared to do less than signing out did. It *seemed* (and I have no idea for sure) that the toggle was more about turning off data from connected personal accounts (that have the face icon next to them) rather than other personal signals (inferred personal accounts, search history, magic keywords, etc.).

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, Gabriel. I’m looking forward to exploring this more. It’s confusing why people would get different news sources for the same search if they were logged out, had no prior search history, etc. None of them should have had any personal signals inserted that way, other than their location and their direct previous search. It sounds like in the WSJ study they were all logged out/no history but in yours, some might not have done this. But I’ll follow up separately to understand more.

    In terms of bias, all search results are biased — even Duck Duck Go has biased search results, as a consequence of how your own search algorithm makes decisions on what to sort through and how to rank.

    I’m trying to help people understand, I suppose, that bias doesn’t necessarily mean favoritism. In a highly charged election year, I see people reading this as Obama somehow getting some favoritism over Romney.

    Do a search for “iran,” then do a search for “syria,” and you’ll see your search results being influenced by Iran. Is that a favoritism for Iran? Of course not — but that’s the same thing happening with the Obama search.

    For whatever reason, Google has decided there’s a strong correlation between Obama and certain follow-on searches, just like there’s a correlation between Iran and Syria. It’s not the same thing as favoring Obama or Iran, but some may misinterpret as so.

  • http://www.gabrielweinberg.com/ Gabriel Weinberg

    It is indeed confusing, but that’s what appears to be happening. Yes, our first experiment was a bit muddled as to the off state. However, our second experiment has an off state that is strictly private browsing, and people searched at the same time. We hope to share those results soon, but it is clear that people saw different links, orderings, and news results (though it had no magic keywords involved).

    It would be great if you did a series of your own studies. I’d be happy to share what we learned in terms of setting them up.

    The favoritism argument is not that magic keywords = favoritism, but that inserting so many Obama-results without inserting the Romney-results amounts to inadvertent favoritism. That is, obama being a keyword and not romney is where the favoritism comes in — again unintentional.

  • Fodbold

    Mitt Romney = some rich guy that wish to be president.

    Obama = has currently been the president for 4 years.

    The two men are not equal in any aspects of either fingerprint on politics and thereof derived influence on any political matter or in ambition to do so. Maybe Romney is currently, like this week, polled as “as popular” as The President. Maybe he has an opinion about this or that, but Obama have 4 years in the oval office actually being The Man.

    Shouldn’t that reflect on a search engine result?

  • Dom Casas

    As far as I know a query for Obama will give millions of results compared to Romney. Google is not bias it’s just that Obama has been that popular in the last 4 years we can’t blame Google for showing you relevant search term about Obama “Obama This Obama That”.

    If Romney will be the next President then he’ll have the same popularity as Obama on Google search result. I’m from the Philippines that means I am not in favor to any of them.

  • Pat Grady

    you’re talking like Romney searches are some arcane, little searched thing. people have been digging in for details, deep details. think highly of you, but this smells funny to me. you’re conjecturing more than usual, have always appreciated your data / fact / evidence based reporting. i can’t help but think that disclosure would be healthy here (i voted for Gary J).

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    If you’re asking who I voted for, it was Obama. As for Romney searches being “arcane,” I never said that. I never said that Romney wasn’t a popular search or wasn’t somehow not as popular as Obama.

    I’ll I’ve said is that for some reason, Google seems to be looking at certain words (Obama, cars), sees a high percentage of searches that occur right after those and seems to think it makes sense to give the subsequent searches in some cases a flavor of the previous search.

    Are they doing it to be biased toward Obama? If so, it’s a pretty stupid way to “favor” him. I already gave one example where the result, by not appearing for Romney but appearing for Obama, potentially helps Romney.

    Go search for Iran. Now go search for Syria. You’ll see a “you recently searched for Iran” link appear, influenced by the fact you just searched for Iran. Is Google doing that to somehow favor Iran over other countries?

    Search for “utah,” then search for “used cars.” You should see a “you recently searched for Utah” link. Is Google somehow favoring Utah over other states?

    I don’t see, from what I’ve explored so far, that this is all part of some secret plot by Google to somehow manage to influence people to like Obama on the off chance they search for him and then later search for things like Iran or gay marriage.

    What it is, however, is an interesting twist to how Google is deciding to alter search results for a wide variety of terms — those magic keywords if you will — beyond what someone initially entered.

    You bet, I’m working to discover more about why Google does this and when it happens.

  • keaner

    I also agree, this post seems very bias towards Obama and Google having done nothing wrong. Good article though.

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    Danny,
    Obama has more .gov information.
    lol.
    =)

  • http://www.v2interactive.net/ Josh

    Insert political comment here that does not relate to SEO nor marketing.

  • Pat Grady

    others gave 10 down arrows to Danny’s answer here? look, i asked for disclosure and got it. Danny’s explained things further and is looking at more data. my experience is that when you challenge someone this directly, it is rare to see a reply filled with grace, understanding, analysis, but also devoid of becoming defensive. really not sure what others are negative on here. thank you Danny, i look forward to learning more from your reporting.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Pat, I could leave a comment saying that Google is the most evil company in the world and should be abolished, and it would get 10-20 down votes from the same small group of people who intensely hate Google and have decided I get to be a proxy for their upset. It really doesn’t matter what I write.

    Your question was fair enough, and I was happy to answer it. I really didn’t see this as some type of political story. The WSJ saw that angle and ran with it, and that makes sense. But as a search marketer, was was far more fascinating (and important) was the idea that certain “magic keywords” are going to influence the subsequent searches we do — not just for us, but for everyone.

    That’s a new thing we’ve really not seen before with Google. We knew that previous queries could alter what an individual might see but not that previous queries could alter what everyone might see.

    I was trying to help clear away some of the cutter about “bias” and “filter bubbles” to highlight that more important (to me) point — this is a new ranking factor. And it’s definitely one I’m trying to get further answers to from Google. I just couldn’t get them in time for this story, and I wanted to cover what we could tell so far as a starting point.

  • Arne van Elk

    I would like to know which magic words trigger mass customization after doing a Romney search. If ‘Obama’ followed by ‘Iran’ triggers some form of customization, which search terms do the same for Romney?

  • jayyepeeen

    I think some of the users here are being a little myopic in their views. One should also take into account the history and global results, not just America’s. I am not from the States and I didn’t really know who Mitt Romney was until 2 months ago. But everybody knows who Obama is and he had 4 years in the oval office and it’s no surprise that he’s more searched about -overseas or in America. Maybe it had to do with the total number of hits and not number of hits per week. Just my two cents!

  • danny76

    For the two people that voted my comment down thus far, can you please tell me why you did so? I’d really like to hear your logic.

  • http://twitter.com/ronin_tan The Ronin

    the question is how many queries would Google consider as trending, what if you can influence the search for a specific keyword then most probably that people within that specific demographic will get search results relevant to the keyword you had planned to influence on.

  • http://twitter.com/ronin_tan The Ronin

    hmm so I guess with your comment here, I can imply that what Romney should have done is to have an expert panel of search engine marketers, studied carefully results from Obama searches wrote a lot of press or articles about the same topics and publish.

    This way his presence becomes more viable and related to the search terms thus affecting results.

  • danny76

    Danny – do you care to comment on why Google Trends totally omitted Benghazi as a “hot search” phrase when it’s search volumes clearly outpaced the other phrases they dubbed a “hot”?

  • Farhat Bakhsh

    Not surprising at all.Least to give the explanation of algorithm is more depressing! wish google had been more rational in its personalisation so had not end up infuencing the result of the most crucial decision of its own land.