I’ve been noticing a trend in Google Search over the past few months: Google no longer uses all my search terms. While the official word is that “Generally, all the words you put in the query will be used,” in reality this is no longer the case; Google Search uses a new “feature” called Autocomplete. What autocomplete does is insert terms into your search that Google thinks that you might want to see.
Take this example: I searched for find friends urbanspoon. The results returned many hits with the term Yelp but without the term Urbanspoon. If I repeat the request with the terms find friends urbanspoon -yelp, then I get hits without Yelp.
The question is, why has Google added the term Yelp to my search without my requesting it do so?
Google claims that you can turn off Autocomplete, but this is not the case; I performed this search with Autocomplete and Instant Search turned “off,” logged in and logged-out. The results were identical. Both Autocomplete and Instant Search return biased results. Biased towards “popular searches,” definitely, but perhaps also biased towards its own advertising customers. In any case, the result for my particular query is that Google is shunting searchers towards Urbanspoon’s competitor site, Yelp.
Google has denied any brand bias, but keep your eyes peeled. Make a few tests of your own and see if you don’t come up with similar results.
Related: Check out the The United States of Autocomplete.