Telegraph drops to 5th place in Google results for MPs expenses

Google has dropped the Telegraph to 5th place when you search for MPs expenses for some reason, as revealed here.

Last week Google had pages from the BBC 1st and the Telegraph 2nd – even though the Telegraph is the primary source of all this material.

Today the search results are even worse:

  1. In first place, we have the BBC, with one page from yesterday and from October 2004 – is this what seachers want?
  2. Then comes the Guardian, with its MPs’-expenses landing page followed by a story from Saturday. That might be fair enough for 2nd place.
  3. Then – tangentially interesting I suppose, but the page is dated 2004.
  4. Then the Daily Record from Saturday. I’ve nothing against Scottish newspapers. But really – ahead of the Telegraph?
  5. And finally, the Telegraph with one page from Sunday and its MPs’-expenses landing page.

The Telegraph is benefiting from the 3 news stories above the normal results. And Google is probably having trouble identifying the original source because no mainstream news organisations link back to the Telegraph. But for a topical news story, this set of web search results is really bad.

Search results for MPs expenses at Google

Search results for MPs expenses at Google

17 thoughts on “Telegraph drops to 5th place in Google results for MPs expenses

  1. paulbradshaw

    Search engine results vary by time, place and computer, so this is obviously not going to be the same for everyone – on my computer the Telegraph perform even worse, with the Guardian also pipping them – but the ‘News results’ that heads the page does, interestingly, lead with the Telegraph, but only because it has the most recent news story at the moment.

  2. Tom Loosemore

    2004 is the year first published details of and league tables for MPs’ expenses, including the infamous Additional Costs Allowance.

    No journalists followed this up.

    It’s still the only place you can go to find out how much your own MP has been claiming since 2001/2.

    So, pretty relevent then.

  3. Mark Blackstock

    Google’s automated news results become even more unreliable in relevance and priority when it comes to local news areas not covered specifically by mainstream media – which adds to the growth in local websites and blogs edited by humans offering local news headlines targeted at local people.

  4. Tom Loosemore

    Malcolm – Telegraph is still top of Google’s News Results at the top of the page. At least for me… That’s how it should be. For the next few days at least.

    But Google’s organic results will (shoukd?) inevitably favour covering sites which have been covering all MPs in depth for many years (BBC & Guardian).

    The pages the Telegraph has published on individual MPs are, well, a bit thin. And they only cover a tiny minority of MPs.

  5. Tom Loosemore

    Exactly – this is a news spike, during which period a Telegraph news story should be at the top of any Google results page for a search of “MPs’ expenses”

    Which it is today, and which it was yesterday. (for me at least for me)

    Job done google – they’ve spotted this is a news spike, and duly inserted the most relevent news stories from google news search.

    But in a month’s time, I doubt MPs’ expenses will still be a news spike.

    At which point the Telegraph will only deserve to be at the top of Google’s organic results if it’s offering an enduring service of value worthy of being linked to by 1,000s of people. Which, given the poor quality of the Telegraph’s individual aggregation pages for MPs are at the moment, is not looking likely.

    The issue for me is why a 2 day old BBC News story *is* No.1 for a Google’s organic, non-news search for MPs’ expenses. Ditto Guardian topics page. That does not seem right.

  6. malcolm coles

    We’re not going to persuade each other. But I think that proves my point!
    Currently when I look, the 3 news stories at the top for a search on MPs expenses are for the BBC, Guardian and Telegraph.
    Of the web results, the Telegraph is 6th, and some odd looking domain is ahead of it (“Shoothill are Microsoft Certified developers of bespoke business applications.”)
    Anyway, people want the Telegraph – the hitwise numbers prove it. That’s what google should have at the top of the web results right now.
    When it’s all died down, sure, put those other sites at the top (a bit like during the olympics, when I want current info when it’s on, not the BBC’s olympics page from 1984 or whatever).

  7. Andraz Tori

    Why would Google or any search engine care who broke the story?

    Tracing back the ‘original author’ is entirely different problem than finding what is the most relevant source right now. Who broke the story is something marketing is concerned about, not readers.

    I agree the results aren’t particularly good, but the reasons listed for changing them seem wrong.

    Andraz Tori

  8. Murray Dick

    Bit late to this debate, but to be absolutely sure that Google isn’t personalising results for you (whether you have a Google account, or not), its a good idea to run your search through a search anonymiser like Scroogle:

    Secondly, with regard to who should be top in the Google results sited, there’s a danger of breaking a cardinal rule of the information economy here.

    The simple fact of the matter is that the expenses story doesn’t ‘belong’ to the Telegraph, any more than that it belongs to anyone else – whether they paid for it or not.

    Copyright will protect the words (and other means) they used to tell this story, but the story itself is firmly within the creative commons.

    But with regards to the practicalities raised here, the fundamental problem of using primacy as a scale upon which to measure relevance is that it still doesn’t deal with the issue of what people might actually want.

    Take the first issue – should a simple string like ‘mps expenses’ return as the first results:

    – The very first front-page story the Telegraph published on this topic, or
    – The most popular (linked to) story in the series, or
    – The index page for the whole thing the Telegraph have now created to house the vast number of stories they’ve since published?

    And what if the BBC (for example) provided a service (ie searchable database) to allow scrutiny of the data which the telgraph have not, in which would make it relevant to anyone wanting to check their own mps – should this top them all?

    There’s so many things a surfer might want from a simple, two-word string.

    Say you are intererested in those expense claims of a particular MP (already published – first – by the Telegraph) – and you search ‘mps expenses nadine dorries’ for example.

    But what if a local newspaper has taken this story and done a lot more investigating, and in the process uncovered far more interesting info about the individual? Shouldn’t that story be first- it would be more relevant in a qualitative sense?

  9. malcolm coles

    I’ve been on holiday. So I should probably let it lie. But, oh look, I’m, not going to!

    @Andraz – I think Google does tend to reward the first breaker of a story. And often this would be a good idea – getting the source, rather than the rehashed version by some other media site.

    @Murray – I agree that there is often no hard and fast answer to what should be the first result. Except in this case, I think there is. Ignoring your hypothetical situations, the Telegraph is the primary source for these stories. The fact it’s what people want is shown by the huge traffic volumes the Telegraph is experiencing. This logic might not always apply – but it does here and now – and the traffic volumes prove it. For Google to put any other site at number 1 is pretty poor – and to put the sites above it when it was at number 8 was utterly ridiculous.

  10. Robin Goad

    Hi Malcom,

    I think the point that a number of people have made about the Google search page (SERP) varying constantly and by user is relevant. As you may know, people who use Google for search marketing purposes have access to a ‘clean’ results page that gives them the results regardless of history, etc..

    Someopne has already linked to my earlier blog post on the topic in their comments (and I think you may have also, in an ealier post), but I thought I’d provide an update based on last week’s results.

    Last week (w/e 13/06/09) the Telegraph picked up 50% of UK traffic from the basic term ‘mps expenses’. For a broader portfolio of expenses related terms (including ‘mps expenses’, but also terms like ‘expenses scandal’, ‘list of expenses’, ‘david camerion expenses’, etc. – 64 in total last week) the Telegraph picked up 36.3%, followed by the BBC (7.8%) and the Guardian (6.5%). Here’s link to a table containing the full top 10:

    Thanks, Robin

    Robin Goad
    Research Director, Hitwise

  11. malcolm coles

    Hi, Robin. Thanks for the update. Now that the Telegraph is number 1 for the term ‘MPs’ expenses’, it’s no surprise that it’s picking up even more traffic.

    I think this debate got sidetracked a bit over the last few weeks. But I still maintain that Google wasn’t best serving searchers by originally having the Telegraph 5th (and later 8th). I think your own original data proved this (as it was published when the Telegraph wasn’t 1st, yet people were still flocking to the site).

    And Google itself has recognised this now – as the Telegraph is first.

    It may be in the future that a different site deserves to be first – I’m not claiming that the Telegraph site is the be all and end all on this subject – and you’d expect SERPS to change over time (EG when I search for the FA Cup now, I want a different result to last year, and the year before etc).

    But, at the height of the expenses’ scandal, Google’s main web results for this search term were not very good.

    (And I’m not terribly convinced by this result from the BBC being number 5ish right now: “BBC NEWS | UK | MPs’ expense accounts laid bare 21 Oct 2004 … Full details of MPs expenses are published for the first time, allowing voters to check up on their representatives’ claims.”)

  12. malcolm coles

    Very true, Paul. I imagine Google’s algorithms weren’t helped by no other mainstream news sites linking to the Telegraph. Loads of links on Twitter, of course, but Google had long ago persuaded Twitter to nofollow them all …

  13. Dean Hill

    Interesting how this was a post written in 2009 yet it is still relevant and says something about how internet search engines ‘grade’ their sources – if I remember correctly you covered such topics as search engine optimisation and how websites try to rank themselves higher in one of our lectures. Interesting stuff, would be good to hear a bit more about how websites are ranked and the big ‘no-no’s’ for getting your content on the first few pages of Google.


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