Good Search Engines, Bad Search Engines? A Comparative Content Analysis of the Diversity and Relevance of Search Results

Search engines play a decisive role  on the Internet: As information intermediaries, they increasingly regulate access to Internet content. Their powerful position is further strengthened by the users’ trust in these selection and filtering processes. Thus, there are growing fears that the recipients' use of information depends less on their active selection than on the selection and filtering process of the search engine. Particularly Google is seen critically in this respect, since it has an almost monopoly position with a market share of over 90 percent of all search queries in Germany.

In addition to classic service information (e.g. opening hours or help with everyday problems), search engines are increasingly being used for news consumption, especially within the younger age group. Studies show that news currently being discussed in the mass media are often queried via search engines. In this respect, search engines perform a similar role to that of journalism. Therefore, respective normative demands on search engines are gradually being incorporated into media policy considerations.

By means of a content analysis, the project examines how well the search engine result pages (SERPs) of five search engines (Google, Bing, Ask, Ixquick and DuckDuckGo) correspond to two normative criteria that are considered to be particularly central to the well-informed formation of public opinion: Diversity (information diversity and diversity of speaker) and societal relevance. On the basis of SERPs on ten current controversial political topics, the extent to which the search engines provide the prerequisites for encouraging the user in his or her role as a citizen is examined.

Project staff:
Miriam Steiner M.A.

Prof. Dr. Birgit Stark

Cooperation partner:
Prof. Dr. Melanie Magin

research program media convergence