Does Google have a left wing bias vs Mail Online? SEO experts explain

Is Google biased against the Daily Mail/Mail Online? What the experts say

Daily Mail believes Google has a left wing bias against Mail Online

Does Google have a bias against Mail Online and towards left-wing sites?

DMG Media has renewed an old criticism of the search giant with a story in the Daily Mail looking at coverage of the confidence vote in Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

It looked at 11 search terms used around Boris Johnson over seven days in the run-up to and aftermath of the confidence vote.

It then ranked news organisations around which were most likely to appear on the first page of Google’s search results.

The Guardian featured top, with the most visibility on Google, followed by the BBC, Independent, Sky News, BBC and ITV News.

Mail Online is the UK’s fourth most popular news website  and published a huge amount of content about the confidence vote (59 stories in one day according to Press Gazette’s reckoning).

But it came 20th in the Mail’s own search visibility ranking.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dories is convinced by the research, and told the paper: “I have raised the issue of bias and algorithms distorting democratic content and opinion with Google. They have promised to revert to me with evidence that this is not the case which I have yet to receive.

“This evidence published by the Mail is fairly conclusive and tells us what many have suspected all along.”

But is it true that Mail Online’s poor performance in search is down to left-wing bias on behalf of Google?

One argument against this is the fact that Mirror, the UK’s third most popular news website overall, fares even worse than Mail Online in the research – in 28th position on the Mail’s search visibility ranking.

Does Google have a left-wing bias?

This is an issue that Press Gazette looked into in October 2021 when we quoted data from the Sistrix search visiblity index which confirmed the findings of the more recent Mail survey.

It gave The Guardian and BBC a search visibility score of 400 on its scale versus 50-75 for the right-wing Mail, Telegraph and Sun.

At the time Google explained that its rankings are applied universally. It said today: “The Daily Mail’s claims are completely inaccurate. Distorting results in the way they suggest would harm our business and is fundamentally not how search works.

“Numerous independent studies including by Stanford and The Economist have demonstrated there is no political bias in search and news results; as the Economist concluded: ‘Google rewards reputable reporting, not left-wing politics’.”

Google employs thousands of raters to help it rank websites who take into account varied technical criteria, which are set out here.

No-one knows how Google’s search algorithm exactly works, but it is believed to include factors like links and time spent reading a page to determine how well it ranks.

Google Vice President for UK and Ireland has written a blog post apparently in response to the Mail article.

He said: “In my time at Google, UK publishers of every political leaning have asked me why they don’t rank higher in Search. My answer is always the same: search ranking is based on many things, but British politics is not one of them….

“There are hundreds of factors that determine which results are shown – from quality and freshness to the words of your query, expertise of sources, and the searcher’s location and settings.

“We know search can always be better. That’s why we conduct hundreds of thousands of experiments every year and get feedback from third-party Search Quality Raters, resulting in thousands of improvements, all of which are rigorously tested.”

When Press Gazette asked SEO experts for their opinion most said that it was likely technical issues rather than ideological judgments which were leading to Mail Online being downgraded in search.

Luke Budka, director of digital PR at Definition, said Mail Online was beating The Guardian on Core Web Vitals – signals that Google considers important relating to how fast a website loads and becomes usable.

Maryum Sheikh, a B2B SEO expert and marketing executive at The Digital Voice, told Press Gazette that Google “prioritises the pages who offer the best experience with relevant and useful content for their users” and on this basis it was “clear that there is no discrimination when it comes to ranking SERPs”.

“The algorithm chooses the closest search result which passes hundreds of ranking factors and signals,” she said.

“With that in mind and as an unbiased user and an SEO expert, the reason for The Guardian’s higher ranking and The Mail Online’s lower has more to do with the website performance and user experience, in which The Guardian wins on both instances.”

Guido Ampollini, who has been in the search industry for almost 15 years at companies such as Google and Expedia and now runs the GA Agency digital agency in London, said Google may be making judgments about trust and reliability rather than politics.

He told Press Gazette: “In the case of The Mail, Sun and other publishers versus BBC, Guardian and others, it seems like Google is deeming the latter portals as more authoritative, rather than left-leaning. Rather than bias, authority might be the issue, as well as page experience, even though correlation is different from causality.”

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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette