In an analysis of more than 15,000 recent popular queries, we found that Google devoted 41 percent of the first page of search results on mobile devices to its own properties and info boxes. And when we looked at the equivalent of the first screen on an iPhone X, that figure jumped to 63 percent.
We published our investigation, “Google’s Top Search Result? Surprise, It’s Google
,” by Adrianne Jeffries and Leon Yin, in July. The article showed the impact of Google’s actions on sites like Hipmunk, a travel site that blames its demise in part on Google’s boosting its own travel offerings at the top of search results.
In response to our investigation, Google said that our sample was “non-representative” because it used Google Trends and was therefore more likely to include Google’s “knowledge panels” than a random sample would. However, Google does not offer random samples of search results to researchers or media.
But that got us wondering: How different is the average person’s experience? Was there a way for our readers to see for themselves how much space Google was taking up in their own search results?
And so, we decided to build a tool. Markup investigative data journalist Maddy Varner worked with our graphics editor, Sam Morris, to create a browser extension that would let people see what their search results would look like without all the Google content up top.
This week, we released the tool that they built. Simple Search
is software you can add to Firefox
web browsers. It layers a new view on top of the info boxes at the top of both Google and Bing search results.
The first time I used it, I literally gasped when I saw the blue links pop up. I felt as if I had been transported back in time to the early days of the internet, when searching the web was like walking into a candy store and seeing a million delightful treats on the shelves—all those wonderful websites out there just waiting to be discovered.