Monash University research finds Bing and Ecosia delivered substantially more professionally produced news in the top 50 results compared with Google
Last modified on Wed 3 Feb 2021 00.35 GMT
Australians trying to stay up to date with the news by searching online may be better off ditching Google and using its competitors, research by Monash University has shown.
On Australia Day “Grace Tame” was the most popular search term used on Google – reflecting the fact that she had just been made Australian of the Year. The top 50 results delivered by Google included only 70% of professional news websites, compared with 94% for the same search term on Bing and 82% on Ecosia.
Last Sunday Australians rushing to find out more about the suddenly announced coronavirus lockdown in Perth made “perth lockdown” the most popular search term. Google delivered only 80% of news websites in the top 50, compared with 90% from Bing and 86% from Ecosia.
Meanwhile those trying to find out about how federal Liberal MP Kevin Andrews had lost his preselection would have found only 34% of news websites in response to a search on Google, compared with 70% on Bing and 48% on Ecosia.
Researchers from the Monash University Climate Change Communication Hub took the top 10 search terms used by Australians on Google on two days last week, and compared results delivered by Google, Microsoft Bing and Ecosia.
They found that Bing and Ecosia delivered substantially more professionally produced news in the top 50 results compared with Google.
The director of the Climate Change Communication Research Hub, Associate Professor David Holmes, said the results demonstrated the importance of news media to search engines, with the top search terms clearly reflecting that people were trying to learn more about current affairs topics.
“It is in the interests of search engines to show news sites because that brings users who are in search of trusted and useful quality content,” he said. “These results suggest that Google’s competitors are well able to deliver that kind of professional content.”
The results are significant because Google has threatened to shut down search in Australia if the government passes a law that would force it and Facebook to compensate media companies for using their content.
The legislation was tabled in parliament in December and is presently before a parliamentary inquiry. Labor has said it supports the proposal in principle.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has said it is ready to pick up the slack if Google delivers on its threats to desert the Australian market.
The Monash University results suggest that Microsoft Bing and Ecosia rely more on news media websites than Google. At present, Microsoft and Ecosia are not included in the proposed code, the justification for which is Google and Facebook’s substantial market power.
Google is overwhelmingly the dominant search engine in Australia with 94% of the market. Microsoft Bing has just 3.7%. Ecosia, which is a social enterprise contributing its profits to growing trees, has less than 1%.
A spokesman for Google responded to the findings by saying “Google is not a news aggregator” and that news-related queries accounted for only 1.25% of searches in Australia each year.
“As people come to Google looking for all types of information, we designed Google Search to provide the most relevant and reliable results for someone’s query from across the web (not just from news sites),” he said. “For issues like the coronavirus pandemic, for example, official governmental health authorities provide important information to the public.”
But the Monash University results suggest that news-related queries are more important to Google users than Google suggests.
On 31 January, the top 10 search terms included six that were clearly were prompted by the news, including “perth lockdown”, “Melissa Caddick” (the missing Sydney millionaire), Andrew O’Keefe (a game show host dumped by Channel Seven over allegations of domestic violence) and “Kevin Andrews” – as well as the name of the news media website PerthNow.
Other search terms concerned reality television shows I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here and Married at First Sight, the cryptocurrency related stock XRP, which had lost more than half of its value in a few hours, and the cricket match between Sydney Thunder and the Brisbane Heat.
On Australia Day, the top 10 search terms included both “grace tame” and “Australian of the year 2021” and “Adelaide bushfires” and “Pfizer vaccine”.
Search results for “perth lockdowns” led to a wide variety of news outlets, the Monash data shows, with no clear dominance by a particular company. Search results included the commercial broadcasters, the ABC, News Corporation and Nine newspapers and the university sponsored not-for-profit the Conversation, as well as West Australian local news outlets and overseas sources such as the BBC and the Huffington Post.
Microsoft Bing was approached for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.
Sophie Dembinski, Head of Public Policy at Ecosia, said: “For a long time high quality search results have been a central focus for Ecosia’s product team, so we’re proud to see our news function stand head-to-toe with that of a company that has long dominated the search market – which we should add, has significantly more to spend on R&D than us.”
Guardian Australia has been in discussion with Google over inclusion in its new “Showcase” offering that would see the company pay news providers for inclusion in this product.