In a Tuesday morning Twitter rant, President Donald Trump lashed out at tech giant Google, accusing the world's most powerful search engine of biasing results to trash his image. This two-part thread goes on to claim that conservative media is "shut out," and he ends it by threatening action.

In a statement to CNN, Google dismissed Trump's charges as unfounded, explaining, "When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds. Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don't bias our results toward any political ideology."

The statement continues: "Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users' queries. We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment."

The 96 percent statistic referenced by the president appears to have originated from a post in PJ Media, a right-wing blog. Then, it caught the interest of pro-Trump Fox Business personality Lou Dobbs, and the rest is history.

There are several problems with the president's accusation and the 96 percent figure. In an attempt to calm the president down so he can get back to his real job, which is sort of important, I'm going to break down how Google's search function works in terms most people with a modest level of internet knowledge and sophistication should understand:

  • Google Search is in the business of relevancy. When users search for a given term or phrase, they expect to receive the most relevant results almost instantly. That's what Google's search function and the algorithms that guide it are designed to do.
  • When Google's search function determines how news articles should rank in search results, it's largely driven by two factors: keywords and authority.
  • Keywords in the URL, page title, meta description, body and other key areas of a page can help Google determine which search phrases a page or post is competing for.
  • Domain authority and page authority, however, determine where the page should rank in relation to other pages with similar keywords. Authority is based on measurable factors that demonstrate the quality and popularity of a page like traffic, backlinks and social shares.

The above factors do not take political affiliation into account. If they did, search engine optimization folks like myself would have figured that out in a heartbeat and found ways to monetize that knowledge. Trust me.

For better or worse, content these days requires relevancy if it's going to rank. So, if PJ Media wants to outrank the New York Times from time to time, it should start building authority and executing keyword optimization strategies. It should also be realistic and focus on ranking for longer search queries: It'll probably never rank for "Trump news," but could probably rank for something like "Trump news and fake controversies" with some expert guidance.

There are two key takeaways for business professionals. First, if bad press is showing up when people Google you or your business, don't blame Google--invest in public relations and reflect on the decisions and actions you took that prompted the negative press in the first place.

Second, if you want your own content to appear in Google Search, study search engine optimization or hire an expert to help you compete. I know the president threatened "action"--but for businesspeople, the best action you can take is planning and investing in competent public relations and search engine optimization efforts.

Published on: Aug 29, 2018