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Why Google Shows Black Doctors in a Search for White Ones

A Google search for White American Doctor shows Black doctors. Search results that go wrong provide clues about how Google ranks webpages.

Why Google Shows Black Doctors in a Search for White Ones

Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted an explanation of why it appeared that Google favored images of African-American doctors for search queries that were explicitly about Caucasian doctors.

On first glance it appears that either Google is broken or perhaps that the search results are showing an underlying bias toward images of African-Americans.

Here is the tweet:

Apparently, this search result is being talked about:

Danny Sullivan had already answered the question last year in 2019 with this tweet:

Why Google Shows African-Americans in Searches for White Americans

This is a question that an SEO professional should be able to figure out.

Let’s take a look!

One just has to look at the images that are ranking and take a peek at the code.

This is a close up of a screenshot of White American Doctor:

Screenshot of a search result for White American Doctor

This is a screenshot of the webpage that published that image:

Screenshot of image of a Black doctorThe image features the keywords White American Doctor in an H1 heading, in close proximity to the image.

It’s evident that the words from the search query appear close to the image.

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The keywords are in an H1 heading.

Here’s a screenshot from the code of that webpage:

Screenshot of code from the stock images page of a black doctor

There has been close to no search volume for the keyword phrase.

That fact (check it on Google Trends) is a symptom of why there are no pages that match the search query.

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The diagnosis: It’s not how people search.

If people don’t generally refer to Caucasian doctors as White doctors, how would publishers refer to Caucasian doctors on webpages?

Maybe the keyword Doctor?

screenshot of a search result for doctor

A search for “Caucasian Doctors” shows search results that are pretty much what you’d expect:

Screenshot of Google search results for Caucasian Doctor

Related: 11 Headline Writing Tips to Drive Traffic & Clicks

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These Kinds of SERPs Are Not New

Google’s Sullivan referenced answering a similar question last year.

That’s because this is not new.

This has been happening at Bing and Google for years.

It’s an anomaly of how content is created and how users search.

Screenshot of Bing SERPs

This is Image Search SEO

What’s of interest is that these searches clearly show how important it is to use the right words close to the images that are used in an article.

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Perhaps even more important is to match the words near the images with the keywords that users are going to use.

That might include alt tags and captions.

Related: 11 Important Image SEO Tips You Need to Know

Google is Not Broken

This isn’t a situation where Google is broken.

And it’s not a situation where Google (or Bing) is showing a bias that favors images of African-Americans.

Google is like a mirror. It reflects how we use search engines and how the content on webpages are written.

That’s a basic understanding of SEO.

This is at the heart of keyword research, understanding what users mean when they type something and how often they type those words.

Search results that appear to go wrong are useful.

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They tell us something about how Google ranks pages.

The takeaway for these search results:

Text has a huge influence on image ranking.

Quirky search results sometimes hold observations about how search engines work.

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Roger Montti

Roger Montti is a search marketer with 20 years experience. He provides site audits, phone consultations and content and link ... [Read full bio]

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