The interrelationship between public interest in endangered species and the attention they receive from the conservation community is the ‘flywheel’ driving much effort to abate global extinction rates. Yet big international conservation non-governmental organisations have typically focused on the plight of a handful of appealing endangered species, while the public remains largely unaware of the majority. We quantified the existence of bias in popular interest towards species, by analysing global internet search interest in 36,873 vertebrate taxa. Web search interest was higher for mammals and birds at greater risk of extinction, but this was not so for fish, reptiles and amphibians. Our analysis reveals a global bias in popular interest towards vertebrates that is undermining incentives to invest financial capital in thousands of species threatened with extinction. Raising the popular profile of these lesser known endangered and critically endangered species will generate clearer political and financial incentives for their protection.