Data suggests there’s still no corporate or brand bias in Google results
Haven’t written for Search Engine Land in a while as I’ve been head down in-house, but in late December John Mueller asked on Twitter what the SEO community thinks of this Twitter comment that claims that the first two pages of Google’s search results are devoid of blogs and overoptimized and I wanted to take a few minutes to look at the data.
You may have an opinion that yes, Google is clearly biased toward big brands, or no, Google is just trying to give the users what they’re looking for and no one’s looking for someone’s dumb blog. But we don’t need opinions here because this is a claim about what sites show up in search, and we have a lot of data on that from SEMRush and other sites that rank the web according to how much organic traffic they likely get.
Nonprofit dominates results
So, there are a lot of big brands in the SEMRush top 100. But the number one site is a nonprofit that asked me for a donation earlier this month: Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a well-known brand but not corporate at all. They’re owned by Wikimedia Foundation, which is the only top ten website that is nonprofit, and it gets almost four times the search traffic (according to traffic estimates) of the #2 website on the list, Amazon.
It may seem to some people based on certain searches that they do that brands and corporate websites are showing up instead of blogs and personal websites, but can you really say that Google sends traffic to mostly corporate websites when a nonprofit gets almost 4x the search traffic of Amazon, and 32x the search traffic of the top brand in the world according to Interbrand’s brand value score, Apple?
I would say no, that doesn’t make much sense. If Google had an inherent corporate bias or a brand bias, nonprofit Wikipedia would have less search traffic than for-profit brands that spend a lot of money on branding like Apple and Amazon. Certain queries may be frustrating, but the data suggests there’s no inherent bias.
Personal blogs rank better than ever
Maybe personal blogs are a different story? Does Google serve for-profit corporate domains more than platforms that allow average people to post their thoughts? Let’s check the data.
First, it’s important to note that it’s not 2005 anymore, and in the age of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter many people use social networks and corporate sites that thrive on user-generated content like TripAdvisor and Yelp to post their thoughts. So you may find regular people’s thoughts in search without necessarily finding it on someone’s blog. Of the top ten sites listed above, all but Merriam-Webster derive traffic from user-generated content. They’re not blogs, and they may be hosted on a site owned by a large corporate entity, but Google is bringing visibility to the thoughts of regular users, making the corporate sites vs personal blogs dichotomy a little less clear.
That said, if we do look at only personal blogs we still see that Google sends a lot of traffic to them.
To prove this, we can’t really look at the increase in traffic for all of the most popular platforms, as many of the most popular platforms host their user sites on subdomains, and it’s difficult to use the SEMRush top 30,000 sites to show growth across thousands of subdomains, and just showing traffic to root domains like tumblr.com doesn’t necessarily show that the individual subdomains are getting a lot of search traffic.
But if we consider the top blogging platform now according to SEMRush – Medium, which does host individual blogs on the medium.com root domain, we can see that not only is it one of the top 300 sites in the world according to organic traffic, but that organic search traffic has been growing steadily in the last 5 years:
So the claim that Google doesn’t just show someone’s blog in search results anymore is an opinion, and not one that’s founded in reality. Medium currently has blogs ranking for 231k top three keywords, including “rare pokemon cards,” “wirecutter,” “copy and paste symbols,” “milkweed” and thousands of other competitive non-brand keywords. If you’re a user who doesn’t think that blogs show up in Google search results, you’re not searching any of these 231k keywords where they clearly do.
Personal influencer blogs rank better than monster travel sites in search
If you do want to see results where there doesn’t seem to be corporate bias, try planning a trip to Italy. My wife and I are planning on going there this summer, and we’ve been using Google to research where to go and what to do. As I’m searching it strikes me how many travel influencer personal blogs show up in the results, and not TripAdvisor, Expedia or other huge travel companies.
To illustrate this I’ve taken four of the highest volume queries for someone planning a two week trip to Italy and sorted all of the sites that appeared in the top ten for any search by the site’s Domain Authority. I also highlighted results in the top three in yellow. Seeing this it should be obvious that there’s no clear relationship between a site’s overall authority and top three rankings in this niche, as smaller sites with relevant content—personal influencer blogs like gretastravels.com and ourescapeclause.com are ranking even better for these high-volume keywords than travel behemoths TripAdvisor and Expedia.
This is clearly just one example of a niche where, contrary to increasingly popular belief, it’s still common to get personal blogs in search results; but the data above suggests it’s not an isolated incident.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion about what kind of sites Google ranks, but as the adage goes, “In God we trust, all others bring data.” Every query is different, but I’m not seeing a lot in the data I have that would indicate that on a large scale Google results are biased toward for-profit websites or unfairly manipulated by people who know SEO.
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