Does The FairSearch White Paper On Google Being Anticompetitive Hold Up?

FairSearch, a group of search companies including Microsoft which lobbies that Google is too dominant, has sent a white paper outlining its anti-trust concerns about Google to the 50 state attorneys general in the US. Below, a review and some fact checking of the paper.

You’ll find the paper here, if you wish to read it directly. I’ve had a run through today (it’s long, 44 pages) and some email exchanges with FairSearch spokespeson Ben Hammer. Here’s my take so far.

Google & The Monopoly Question

The first 10 pages are generally devoted to saying that search is important and that Google has either monopoly power or is dominant in the area. Google would disagree with neither of these conclusions.

In the US Senate hearings, even Google chairman Eric Schmidt agreed that Google had such dominance as to be deemed having monopoly power, which means it it has to exercise special care not to be seen as abusive, a limitation its competitors don’t have to worry about.

For example, much of of the wrong-doing Google gets accused of, such as how it positions its vertical search results, it done identically by its rivals Yahoo and Microsoft. But because of Google’s large market share, conceivably these identical things could be ruled as abusive.

For the record, Google has said that it doesn’t view that it has done anything abusive, and that while it recognizes special care is one of its responsibilities, it feels it has been taking that care.

No One Can Scale To Beat Google?

FairSearch sees things differently, of course. But it’s not until around page 14 that it really starts getting into the detailed accusations, I’d say. It starts out with this:

The inability of Ask.com to survive in the search market underscores the role of scale as a barrier to entry in search. IAC/InterActiveCorp (IAC) paid $1.85 billion to acquire the company in 2005, and thereafter invested heavily to transform Ask.com into an algorithmic search engine competing in the same market as Google. Yet Ask.com was never able to obtain the necessary scale to challenge Google, handling only about 4% of searches in the United States.

As Doug Leeds, President of Ask.com explained when Ask.com ended its search operation in November 2009, the company “did a great job of holding our market share but it wasn‟t enough to grow the way IAC had hoped we would grow when it bought us.”

Well, Blekko would beg to disagree. Blekko launched last year to compete against Google. OK, it hasn’t won any significant market share to speak up, but clearly competitors can enter the space.

One of the member companies of FairSearch would also disagree, that of Microsoft. The whole point of the Microsoft-Yahoo deal, as it was pitched to investors over and over again, was that it would provide the scale to compete with Google.

Keep in mind that when Google launched, Microsoft and Yahoo both had far more scale than Google did. Somehow, Google managed to grow. Maybe the scale argument isn’t as strong a barrier as it’s made out, something that Google’s said about that in the past.

Vertical Search Engines Depend On Google?

The paper goes on to the important role that Google plays in supporting vertical search engines — or suppressing them — or both:

No vertical site, standing alone, presents a challenge to Google‟s general search dominance. Indeed, vertical sites largely depend upon Google for traffic. Most users don‟t navigate directly to vertical sites; instead, they get to the sites via Google‟s search engine….

Taken together, vertical search and other specialized information sites have the potential to attract significant search traffic– and thus advertising revenue–away from Google. They are also a source of innovative services and functionality that consumers find attractive. And, one or more vertical search sites could develop over time into a more significant platform to challenge Google‟s general search dominance.

Here, I can do nothing more than sigh. I have huge amounts of sympathy for a search engine like Yelp. Its CEO Jeremy Stoppelman came across as the most likable, and most hard-done-by person speaking at the Google hearings, on his worries about what Google might do to his company.

But let’s get this straight. These vertical search engines are so great, but yet they depend on Google for their traffic? It’s like saying that Comedy Central is upset that NBC is running promos for its Saturday Night Live comedy show on NBC and not Comedy Central’s own The Daily Show.

Sound absurd? It gets worse. Really, it’s more like Comedy Central complaining that NBC isn’t running enough free ads for The Daily Show on its network, even though NBC already runs so many free ads that the majority of people who tune into The Daily Show do so after NBC tells them to change channels and watch The Daily Show.

Stoppelman testified that Yelp gets 75% of its traffic from Google. 75%! For free, by the way. How on earth does anyone argue that Google has been and currently is harming a vertical search engine like Yelp when it sends that much traffic? I know plenty of sites that wish Google would “harm” them in the same fashion.

By the way, in the same hearing, NexTag — a shopping search engine — argued that it was successful as “one of the biggest companies no one has heard of” because it was good at having “perfected the Google platform.”

Crazy, right? They argue they have no brand, but also that they have a brand that’s being harmed by Google, despite them having perfected getting Google to send them traffic. It all makes no sense.

Google Went All Vertical!

Next, we get this statement:

Google has not been blind to the threat of vertical search engines. In fact, to address the MapQuests, Yelps, and Amazons of the world, Google has changed its entire business approach. Back in the early 2000s, Google was a general search engine that sought to direct users to the sites that were most likely to answer their queries. And because Google’s business was dedicated to search, it had no incentive to skew its results based on an ulterior economic interest. Take a look at Google in 2001:

That screenshot, by the way, FairSearch told me came from the special Google 2001 simulator that Google ran for its 10 year birthday. It didn’t. It actually came from our article about the simulator, which featured a screenshot of how Google actually looked back then, as drawn from my personal files. No, we weren’t credited. That’s ironic for a report that repeatedly attacks Google over allegedly using content without permission.

Google Didn’t Start The Vertical Fire

Now, I have a big perspective piece that I’m trying to finish, with a working title of something like “How Google Shot Itself In The Foot With Universal Search.” The point is that somehow over the last few years, the idea that Google having suddenly launched vertical search has been positioned as some type of new thing, something that a search engine shouldn’t do and that somehow Google either launched or was unusual in doing.

It’s not. It’s not even a Google thing. We had vertical search offered by general purpose search engines since, well, how about AltaVista in 1998:

Oh dear. Look at that. AltaVista offering people search, maps, stock quotes, entertainment search, job search. And it was so big! How could a little search engine like Google ever emerge to challenge it, especially when all the vertical entry points were already locked up.

Here’s Lycos, circa 2002, suggesting that people try its News and Shopping search through tabs:

Here’s Yahoo shoving in links to its Shopping and Auctions areas at the top of the page, in 2002:

It was common for general purpose search engines to have vertical search engines before Google was on the scene. All Google has done is follow what the industry leaders before it did. Those leaders include Microsoft, which has operated a search engine since 1997 and at times one with more share than Google.

For more about this industry-wide evolution to blend vertical search results into general search results — and why it’s something consumers needed — I’d really encourage you to read this past piece from me:

Let’s Talk Disclosure

Next, we get this about whether Google is doing disclosure properly. I’m going to bold a key point:

Google‟s first big shift in incentives came when it introduced search advertising. Once Google entered the search advertising market, it had an incentive to steer people to “paid” links in which Google has an economic interest. But even with this new incentive, two forces held Google in check. First, search engine competition restrained Google from degrading the user experience by leading users to paid links. If Google returned poor search results, users would have used another search engine, like Altavista or Yahoo!. Second, consumer protection concerns forced Google to disclose its economic interests in those links, which led to the separation of and notice of “sponsored” or “paid” advertising links on the search page.

Where it once sought to direct users to web pages as quickly and efficiently as possible, Google now seeks to steer users to its own websites and to prevent users from going to competing websites. And where it once pointed users in the direction of the information they wanted, Google now attempts to provide that information directly to its users – even sometimes when that information was developed by others and does not belong to Google.

The FTC introduced those “consumer protection concerns” about how paid ads should be labelled back in 2002. Google wasn’t “forced” to do any changes because of them. Actually, FTC representatives praised Google, as I wrote then:

In talking with the principal staff members who authored the recommendations, FTC attorneysBeverly Thomas and Dean Forbes, they were extremely reluctant to say which search engines they think have the format for paid placement “right.”

Indeed, as we shall see, the FTC is explicitly trying not to impose a “one size fits all” solution on the search engines, because they all have their own unique ways of presenting information.

Nevertheless, both indicated that personally — not speaking with an official commission viewpoint — they especially like the way Google has handled the situation with paid placement. Google’s paid results are placed in visually distinct colored boxes, separate from the main editorial results. Moreover, they are listed in close proximity to the labels “Sponsored Link” or “Sponsored Links.”

Let’s Talk Recirculation

As for the charge of not sending people away from Google, with all that color-coding, look at this:

What am I missing that Google is doing that Bing is not? At best, you can argue that Bing is showing two additional “free” listings “above the fold” because Google has an extra ad above and that those ads are larger in nature. Of course, trust me, Bing wishes it had more ads to show. So does Yahoo.

Then again, the blue “Google News” items that FairSearch colors to make you think are somehow driving people back into Google don’t actually do that. Each of the links under the “News for casinos” heading drives people away from Google, to news sites themselves.

Over at Bing, the “Listings for Casinos” section that’s shown in blue does the opposite, drives people back into Bing, rather than to the actual places that are listed.

Bottom line. If FairSearch-backer Microsoft is doing the things that FairSearch is upset with Google about, all that seems to demonstrate that Google is following industry practices.

NexTag, Paid Inclusion Disclosure & Irony

Google also gets called out by FairSearch for just saying “ads” rather than “sponsored links.” That’s exactly what Bing does.

Beyond labeling ads, the FTC guidelines from way back also had a specific requirement for disclosure of paid inclusion. I’ve written about this in relation to Google in the past:

Google has denied, in the past, that there’s any paid inclusion disclosure issue happening or that it does paid inclusion at all. In fact, it was because of Google’s strong stance against paid inclusion that the entire industry dropped the practice, at least the big search engines.

What was paid inclusion? Let’s go to those FTC guidelines:

Paid inclusion can take many forms. Examples of paid inclusion include programs where the only sites listed are those that have paid; where paid sites are intermingled among non-paid sites; and where companies pay to have their Web sites or URLs reviewed more quickly, or for more frequent spidering of their Web sites or URLs, or for the review or inclusion of deeper levels of their Web sites, than is the case with non-paid sites….

In short, through the use of clear and conspicuous disclosures, consumers should be able to easily locate a search engine’s explanation of any paid inclusion program, and discern the impact of paid inclusion on search results lists. In this way, consumers will be in a better position to determine whether the practice of paid inclusion is important to them in their choice of the search engines they use.

This leads me to NexTag. It’s not a FairSearch member, but it was called to testify at the US Senate hearing, and what it testified broadly matches the themes that FairSearch pushes about Google somehow hurting vertical search engines.

Listing 1000s Of Merchants For Free Is Wrong?

NexTag argues that Google directs people to its own product search service, rather than to NexTag, and therefore NexTag is harmed from traffic is apparently is entitled to. In fact, NexTag said that if it tried to launch today, it would get so little traffic as to not be viable.

This matches up to what FairSearch argues. In particular, FairSearch is pushing in the report (and in this blog post) that Schmidt somehow mislead senators in the hearing by saying that Google Product Search doesn’t lead to merchants.

It was an argument Schmidt made to explain that product search doesn’t only benefit Google but also benefits thousands of merchants. Google argues that it refers searchers to its own product search, where they can search and exit Google to merchants across the web.

Let’s say Google changed things. Let’s say Google dropped its own shopping search engine entirely, allowing even more people than already find NexTag to get there. They’d do a search at NexTag and go to merchants that are listed in that search engine.

And how do merchants get listed in NexTag? You pay. You pay, or you don’t play.

NexTag doesn’t disclose this in an easy way for consumers to locate, as the FTC guidelines require. There’s nothing on the help page about it, unless you were a savvy enough consumer to go past the topics written explicitly for shoppers and instead read the seller information and figure this out.

In other words, NexTag thinks that Google is unfairly not sending even more people to its service than it already does, where it can find products from merchants who only appear if they agree to pay, rather than letting people search at Google using Google’s own product search, where merchants aren’t charged to be listed at all.

I haven’t gone through all the FairSearch partners to see if they’re doing paid inclusion disclosure properly. I can tell you that in the vertical search space, I’ve found it’s often the case that the required disclosure isn’t done. If FairSearch is going to be pushing on Google about disclosure, its partners better take a hard look to make sure they meet the already existing requirements out there. Those requirements are for all search engines, not just the big search engines.

Some Sympathy On Local

Of all areas where Google has come under fire, it has been about local listings where I’ve felt the most sympathy for vertical search engines who feel Google’s harming them. You can understand why with this section from the FairSearch report:

Google understands that users are drawn to the search results in the top-left hand corner. Consequently, Google displays many of its own pages at the top or in the middle of the results page as if they were natural search results, without clearly identifying them as Google results. Consider a search on Google for “New York Hotels”:

As the screenshot shows, not a single organic search result appears in the area above the fold. Instead, Google ensures that links to its own sites and other sponsored links are placed at the top-left– even when rival verticals are more relevant to users‟ queries. As a result, competing sites lose a significant amount of traffic and revenue because independent organic results are not shown to users.

There’s a lot of space devoted to Google Places, which in turn — until recently — compiled much information from other review sites and suggested that it was all or nothing. If Google couldn’t summarize their reviews, they couldn’t be included in Google at all.

That’s wrong, in my books. Each vertical search engine that Google runs should have its own blocking mechanism. If you want to be in Google Web Search, but not in Google News or Shopping or Places, you should be able to be selective.

Google appears to be cleaning up its act here, and that’s good. But also, let’s look at that search again from FairSearch above, this time side-by-side with Bing:

What I’ve done is highlight anything that leads back into either search engine with yellow, anything that’s an ad in red and anything that leads outbound in green.

This is exactly the same search that FairSearch did. The only difference is that I’ve illustrated, as they did not, that many of those links in the Google Places section don’t actually flow all back to Google.

And Even More Allegations

There’s even more to the report, including:

Google said to be hard-coding shortcuts to its shopping search engines, even though these OneBox units — as any good SEO knows — actually float around in various positions on the page. Sometimes, they don’t show at all.

Google is said to be including reviews from local sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp without permission, with proof of this being older screenshots that don’t reflecting the changes that were made in June, which drops content from these sits.

Google does deals to secure being the default provide in browser and phones (Bing and Yahoo do the same)

Google prevents Google Search from being removed from Android phones through its Android compatibility program. The exact quote:

Google protects this dominant position by making it very difficult for mobile operators to remove Google search from Android phones. The principal way that Google has closed and controls the Android platform is via its “compatibility program,” a set of technical requirements imposed by Google.

There are some serious allegations about Google preventing the Skyhook location service from being used, with a compatibility excuse. But I have never, ever heard of an issue being related to Google Search. I’ve personally used devices that were stripped of Google to use either Yahoo or Bing, such as the Samsung Fascinate.

Allegations Are Exhausting

In the end, reviewing the report is frustrating. There are serious industry-wide issues about how consumers interact with search engines. There are also serious concerns about what rights publishers should have in regards search engines. These, among others, deserve serious attention. These are also rarely Google-specific issues.

But reports like these, which are full of exaggerations, half-truths and mistakes rob from that attention. This report, as well as FairSearch overall, seems designed solely to target Google no matter what it takes, no matter what tall tales need to be told.

I find that bizarre, that all this attention seems to be revolving around a tiny number of companies that feel Google is somehow being anti-competitive toward them, rather than around the literally millions of companies that rely on search engines of all shapes and sizes that deserve protection from the search engine industry as a whole.

Should any shopping search engine, that presents itself as a shopping search engine, include any merchant or only those who pay?

Should any local search engine, which ultimately depends on the businesses it lists, have an obligation to let those businesses opt-out of being review or have a guaranteed say on their pages, without concerns of being pressured to buy ads?

Should any search engine always dedicated a percentage of its page to unpaid listings that point outward?

These are all good questions that go beyond Google. These are good question that deserve being explored. Maybe they even will be.

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    In response to: “How on earth does anyone argue that Google has been and currently is harming a vertical search engine like Yelp when it sends that much traffic?”

    This is where I stopped reading, as your logic is flawed. I don’t know what Yelp’s situation is like. That doesn’t matter. The question is not how much Google traffic is Yelp getting; the question is how much Yelp-like traffic is Google siphoning off from Yelp and competitors by positioning its own Yelp-like data in front of the organic search results.

    This question cannot be answered by how much traffic Yelp gets or where that traffic comes from. This article provides no clarity on the situation.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Michael, in response to “This is where I stopped reading,” that’s where I stopped reading, as if you’re not going to read what I wrote, then the logic of responding to anything you have to say in regards to this piece is flawed.

    But actually, I’m less dismissive of you than you appear to be of me. The logic isn’t flawed, in my view. You just don’t agree with it.

    The question is, to be specific, is Google acting in a way that abuses its market position to harm its competitors. The answer is that if it was, you wouldn’t expect that competitor to say that it’s still getting an overwhelming amount of its traffic from Google.

    If Google’s deliberately trying to harm Yelp, out of anti-competitive concerns (and that’s what this is all about), then you’d expect Yelp to get very little of its traffic from Google. That’s clearly not the case.

    If the argument is that Yelp used to get 85% or 90% of its traffic from Google but now only gets 75% of its traffic from Google, due to the launch of Google Places, that’s still a very weak argument that Google is deliberately trying to drive Yelp out of businesses with that launch.

    The question of whether Google has acted in anti-competitive manner against competitors certainly can’t be answered by the traffic to Yelp alone. That’s why FairSearch wrote such a long report. That’s why I wrote such a long review of it. Whether you want to read either of those things before commenting is, of course, up to you.

  • TimmyTime

    —-”Well, Blekko would beg to disagree. Blekko launched last year to compete against Google. OK, it hasn’t won any significant market share to speak up, but clearly competitors can enter the space.”

    The key is to winning market share, not starting a search engine. I can start one with 5 sites indexed. Blekko can issue press releases all they want, what market share do they hold?

    Danny you have one major flaw in your argument: who started verticals or Bing does it too, do not matter. Google is a monopoly (or near it), Bing is not. Likewise what Apple does, MS cannot do on Windows. Until you understand that you shouldn’t write any more on this subject.

    ——”Sound absurd? It gets worse. Really, it’s more like Comedy Central complaining that NBC isn’t running enough free ads for The Daily Show on its network, even though NBC already runs so many free ads that the majority of people who tune into The Daily Show do so after NBC tells them to change channels and watch The Daily Show. Stoppelman testified that Yelp gets 75% of its traffic from Google. 75%! For free, by the way. How on earth does anyone argue that Google has been and currently is harming a vertical search engine like Yelp when it sends that much traffic? I know plenty of sites that wish Google would “harm” them in the same fashion.”

    Actually your argument is absurd. Google says that they are a search engine and want to find the best sites for the user. If SEL is the best site for a topic, your traffic is not free, it’s thanks to your hard work. Not to mention that Google is being paid handsomely for the services one way or another, to the tune of $30 billion a year. How’s that for a ‘free’ service that Google generously provides to the people that pay that $30 billion in higher prices ??

    What Yelp is saying that if not for Google’s bias toward their own product they’d get even more traffic because they deserve it and that their pages are better than G Local. Once again you need to brush up on monopolies, maybe by reading Google’s argument’s against MS in late 1990′s. Or Eric Schmidt’s. Once you have a certain market power you are limited on what you can do. Wold Google like it Microsoft had ads for Bing on Windows toolbars each time someone visited Google? No one forced people to buy Windows :)

    I am glad you agree that Google needs to put “Sponsored Listings” on top and make sure that the different colors is seen as such on most monitors and color settings. Try it.

    Notice how Google has some extra white space between the search box and ads? It’s so only ads show up on about 40% of resolutions. Clickmania!

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Timmy, I do understand that what’s allowed by a non-monopoly company might not be allowed by one with a monopoly. I even said that in the piece. It was the fourth and fifth paragraphs:

    “In the US Senate hearings, even Google chairman Eric Schmidt agreed that Google had such dominance as to be deemed having monopoly power, which means it it has to exercise special care not to be seen as abusive, a limitation its competitors don’t have to worry about.

    For example, much of of the wrong-doing Google gets accused of, such as how it positions its vertical search results, it done identically by its rivals Yahoo and Microsoft. But because of Google’s large market share, conceivably these identical things could be ruled as abusive.”

    I couldn’t be more clearer in understanding this. I can only assume you were in such a rush to disagree with anything that I wrote that you didn’t bother to read.

    What you seem to overlook is whether the positioning of vertical search is deemed an abuse by Google remains to be seen.

    The degree to which this is an industry standard, and a standard done to benefit consumers, will almost certainly be an important factor.

    That’s why later in the piece, I suggested people read my story about how we ended up with blended search as a response to consumer needs, rather than some desire for any search engine to try and harm competitors.

    As for the best site argument, I point you back to the NexTag irony. NexTag argues that Google isn’t doing right by pointing to Google Product Search so much. It should instead point to NexTag. Maybe it should, if NexTag is better. But I haven’t seen some independent research report saying that NexTag is better.

    I do know that if you can only be listed in NexTag because you pay, and if Google Product Search will list any qualified merchant, I’m already questioning why NexTag is so much better.

    Beyond that, I might very well still be getting to the best site through Google Product Search. That’s because the best site when I search for something like ‘iphone 4 cases” isn’t necessarily another shopping search engine, where I can do a search all over again but rather a set of actual merchants who are willing to sell me what I’m looking for. And Google Product Search provides that.

    As for Yelp, I continue to find it a weak argument that “only” getting 75% of their traffic from Google suggests that Google is operating in an anti-competitive monopolistic manner.

    As for ad disclosure, yeah, colors being faded out are an issue. Don’t like that at all. I also don’t like how the FTC guidelines seem to sometimes be forgotten by many in the search engine industry. But that’s not a Google specific issue. It’s also not an anti-competitive issue. It’s a consumer issue, where we have existing guidelines on the books that could — and should — be enforced now.

  • TimmyTime


    I couldn’t be more clearer in understanding this. I can only assume you were in such a rush to disagree with anything that I wrote that you didn’t bother to read.

    ^ I read it but you forgot it when you mentioned TV stations (USDOJ would not let ABC buy CBS and CBS for example) having to provide ads for competitors and Yelp expecting ‘free’ traffic. You are not the same Danny you were once. I have yet to see one story questioning Google’s move with Panda that destroyed many small business since February as Google’s advertisers (brands) are pushed up and as sites like Daniweb, Cultofmac and others are manually fixed to avoid bad publicity for Google. How fair is that from a monopoly that controls 70% of search???? Others work just as much if not more than Dani at their sites, and depend on it too pay their bills, why aren’t theirs getting the same treatment as hers?


    “What you seem to overlook is whether the positioning of vertical search is deemed an abuse by Google remains to be seen. ”

    ^So far, but I have my opinions. Would consumers be hurt if MS banned /demoted /made it harder for all other browsers? Let’s take a wild guess Danny


    “But I haven’t seen some independent research report saying that NexTag is better.”

    ^ Fine, can we agree that someone, somewhere has better pages for local and products than Google? Why isn’t Google posting those if they care so much about the users ? Why are Google users shown inferior listings on about half of the page in many searches? We know the answer, they want to build their service and drive competitors out of business by pushing them down, via Panda or other algorithmic crap.


    “Beyond that, I might very well still be getting to the best site through Google Product Search. That’s because the best site when I search for something like ‘iphone 4 cases” isn’t necessarily another shopping search engine, where I can do a search all over again but rather a set of actual merchants who are willing to sell me what I’m looking for. And Google Product Search provides that.”

    ^Why is that the best Danny, is it cheaper, offers free shipping, no taxes, more products /stores to compare…or what????? Ha! Trust Google when it pushes its own service.


    “That’s why later in the piece, I suggested people read my story about how we ended up with blended search as a response to consumer needs, rather than some desire for any search engine to try and harm competitors.”

    ^ Is that how Google will make another $10 billion this year? Let’s drop the pretense Danny.

    Regarding links being barely different, isn’t that a scam that hurts consumers and organic sites? Once you do those things, what else are doing doing behind the scenes?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Timmy, no search engine is in the business of ensuring that some site that used to get a lot of its traffic from that search engine is guaranteed to always get it in the future. The job is to provide searchers with good results.

    I have never, ever advised anyone to solely build their traffic on search engines. In fact, for as long as I’ve written about search engines — even before we had Google — I’ve advised that search engines are fickle creatures.

    So write about the fact that Google wiped out many small businesses with Panda? For each loser, there’s a winner. It’s just that the winners don’t complain.

    We have repeatedly written about winners and losers, however, when there’s been good data about this — and in particular when people have asked if the “winners” somehow seem to be favoring Google.

    I just wrote this last week:
    http://searchengineland.com/google-panda-losers-today-show-winners-youtube-95257

    “There’s also a winners list. Once again, Google’s own YouTube site is winner. It tops the latest list, something that’s sure to raise controversy in a climate when Google’s facing criticism that its search results favor itself. Google’s Android.com is also in the top winners list. So is Google-partner AOL.com.”

    Not enough for you? I mean, it was in the headline, too.

    Wait, not mentioning the Cult Of Mac manual fix? You mean like this:
    http://searchengineland.com/google-weve-made-no-significant-changes-to-the-farmer-update-66591

    They denied doing any such thing. Maybe Google’s just lying about it. But we did ask, and we did report on it.

    As for Dani, I actually talked with her a few weeks ago at one of our conferences. She didn’t give me any impression that she felt like Google had done some manual fix for her site, but rather than she read a lot of advice, and worked hard to improve things and rise back up.

    If anything, the sad story is despite coming back up, she apparently got hit again:
    http://www.webpronews.com/daniweb-panda-2011-09

    So she really doesn’t appear to be getting any special treatment.

    You’re stuck on me somehow thinking that Google deserves special treatment, or at least that’s the impression I get. I don’t. Google is sucky in many, many ways. Here’s a few places you can start at, if you want a personal take from me:

    http://searchengineland.com/25-things-i-hate-about-google-revisited-5-years-later-67969
    http://searchengineland.com/google-sewage-factory-the-chocomize-story-47403
    http://searchengineland.com/hey-firefox-let-us-pick-our-own-search-engine-14156
    http://searchengineland.com/google-as-open-as-it-wants-to-be-ie-when-its-convenient-12624

    Google may be under special attention about what it can do in relation to sites that it competes with, because of its monopoly status. That’s true, and that’s part of what the current debate is about.

    But as I said at the end of my piece, that’s a lot of attention over an area where it probably isn’t harming competitors as much as they’d have you believe. And it’s a lot of attention away from the many millions of other businesses that are part of the Google and greater search ecosystem that perhaps need better attention.

    Those businesses really don’t have a lot of protection, because they can’t concoct some “Google hurt me” argument based on competitive grounds. Google, like any search engine, has no compulsion to list anyone. Even if deemed a monopoly, Google probably wouldn’t be forced to list any site — it just might not be able to do things that seem inclined to favor itself.

    But whether sites can be cached, opt out of some but not all of Google’s services, whether they should get express support on issues of spam or listings — none of these are going to come because there’s an industry group running around trying to get rights for publishers as a whole. FairSearch isn’t doing that. SEMPO isn’t doing that. No one’s doing that.

    Publishers as a whole might get some rights because of some specific actions. The ability to drop out of vertical search on Google (and perhaps as a standard for the industry as a whole) probably owes a huge debt to Yelp pushing hard on that issue.

    But publishers as a whole have gained a huge number of things from Google and other search engines because the SEO community has kept the pressure up, not because a trade group representing an incredibly tiny number of Google competitors has done anything.

    Anyone who’s an old fart in this space remember when we had no support at all. The tools we get direct from Google and Bing today are amazing. They were inconceivable 10 years ago, unimaginable that we’d get them at all. The old farts know how far we’ve come. Anyone who wants to complain that Google doesn’t provide support, doesn’t give information about how it interacts with its web sites simply isn’t educated.

    Despite that, I’d like to see even more attention focused on that SEO community. That way when it bitches about things like Google’s bad search results

    http://www.highrankings.com/dear-google-290
    http://www.seomoz.org/blog/im-getting-more-worried-about-the-effectiveness-of-webspam
    http://searchengineland.com/reviewing-some-bad-google-search-results-with-sergey-brin-27397

    We’re not having to sit around until a year later, when the New York Times decides to write an article, and Google thinks oh, now we’ll care.

    You know, like this:
    http://searchengineland.com/googles-locksmith-spam-problem-hits-the-new-york-times-85026

    Those types of things deserve the attention that gets lavished instead on Google’s anti-trust allegations. Those types of things, we could use even more webmaster support for. Maybe the anti-trust actions will gain us further responsiveness. But it seems a lot of energy expended on an issue that impact relatively few companies which in turn already get the type of traffic from Google that most sites could only wish for.

  • Khalid

    Excellent article, Danny. I always find your perspective fair and I’d have some sympathy for Bing if not for the fact that, as you say, they(or other members of their coalition) weren’t doing most of what they accuse Google of doing.

    I realise your time is limited, but I always enjoy seeing you on shows like Tech News Today and This Week in Google; your perspective is interesting and it’s nice to hear it delivered by someone with such experience who actually sounds interesting. Some people have great experience and thus perspective, but unfortunately don’t deliver what they have to say in an interesting way. You certainly do that. This is primarily why I stay subscribed to Search Engine Land via Google Reader, even though I’m not at all into SEO and many articles are naturally about that.

  • http://hauntingthunder.wordpress.com/ Maurice Walshe

    If they complain that Ads is worse sponsored links – they must be smoking those naughty Jazz cigarettes.

  • Simon Temple

    Well… It’s an opinion and an analogy… “It’s like saying that Comedy Central is upset that NBC is running promos for its Saturday Night Live comedy show on NBC and not Comedy Central’s own The Daily Show.”

    Is it? Did NBC build a product on Comedy Central and then reduce the visibility of that show to almost nothing with a replacement show that was a direct plagiarism? Even worse, they stole the scripts, (Google seeds business listings by scraping them from citation analysis and then presents them above the fold as a tease for business owners to claim).

    What about if Google stepped into the SEO world with Google help pages appearing above the fold for all SEO related queries? The consumer/user has a choice, yes, but habit is well formed on a parasitic model of confidence and then verticalization. Google have the scale and cash to copy the best business models or buy them. The question is has this been monopolistic in nature and most agree that it has.

    There is good reason Google doesn’t accept advertising in the Google News vertical, (They did try once). Bullies pick their victims carefully.

  • A.T.

    Awesome article. I think their hope is that if they throw as many allegations as possible then something will stick. Glad people like you can condense the facts like this to make it perfectly clear much of this is bogus.

    Also just wanted to throw out a “Woot woot!” for that smack down on the comment board.

  • TimmyTime

    Danny even Bill O’Reilly covers Obama events and Keith Olberman covered Bush events, the tone is key. You can go “Google favoring brands: A conflict of interest ?” or “Google gives more emphasis to trust.” Look at this title: “Does The FairSearch White Paper On Google Being Anticompetitive Hold Up?” and compare it to the other one you wrote “Does Google explanation of Panda hold up?”

    But you are not a monopoly, so you can pick sides :)

    *****”If anything, the sad story is despite coming back up, she apparently got hit again:
    http://www.webpronews.com/daniweb-panda-2011-09
    So she really doesn’t appear to be getting any special treatment.”

    Yeah, a few days after getting hit again in September Google pushes a ‘new update.’ How stupid do you take us for Danny?? The fact that she and many others that came back in July got hit again shows that….Google forgot to include the manual tweaks from July, or that Panda is schizophrenic and it’s nearly impossible to come out of it. It’s even sadder the story of those that lost those few hundred visitors from Google’s Panda despite many changes.

    ***”Google, like any search engine, has no compulsion to list anyone. Even if deemed a monopoly, Google probably wouldn’t be forced to list any site — it just might not be able to do things that seem inclined to favor itself.”

    Here lies your problem, as if I said my site deserves #2 for life. There is a difference, huge I might say, between penalizing a site because they truly believe it’s and penalizing them because Google has a financial interest in penalizing them. The same for promoting brands. What if Google talks about these things behind the scenes and updates are done with that in mind? Just let Google do what they want because is their engine or trust them when they say no?

    What if MS in their duty to protect Windows users decided to post a warning each time ones uses Chrome or Google.com for the tracking that they do or based on a secret formula that they cannot share? Google after all decided that Live.com was low quality and increased the adwords bid to $5 and routinely penalizes sites. What would you say? Their right or ant-competitive? Who’s fault it is that Google depends on MS for 85% of their traffic?

    How much traffic they get from Google is truly irrelevant. If it were not Google it would be Foogle or Doogle, just as many people got most of their business from AT&T phone lines or Bell Atlantic Yellow Pages. What matters is how much more traffic they’d get if Google didn’t cook the results. Do you know that Google gets about 99% of it’s traffic from (people using) Microsoft Windows and from Verizon, AT&T, Comcast etc lines?

    Fairsearch is making a very reasonable request: let’s look at the emails, logs and talk to people under oath to see if money is the motive behind many ‘editorial’ changes. Google has at least 3 times more power than all other search engines so they deserve the special scrutiny.

  • http://www.tylerherrick.com Tyler Herrick

    The Yelp traffic comment is irrelevant; if I want an answer from Yelp, then I’ll go to Yelp.com to search for a business/review. If I want to know the phone number of the local dominos, I don’t care who gives me that answer as long as I can get that number as quickly as possible. I think FairSearch is manipulating it’s report, manipulating the situation, and specifically targeting Google and NOT general industry tactics. I think that if people really felt Google was evil and not to be trusted, they wouldn’t be the largest search engine in the US. Why do people think that people are trapped or forced into using Google? Most of the time it’s because it’s easy, it works well, or by default it was the search engine. That doesn’t mean someone couldn’t go use Bing or Blekko or Wolfram Alpha or Yahoo. I use Google because I know they will give me the correct answer faster than anyone else can, without me having to wade through all the crap on the internet. Ever tried using Google for apartment searches? It’s a joke. Someone has to sift through all the junk and give a solution that stands out for people. If you are Yelp and are complaining because some other business started up in your same industry, boohoo that’s commercialism. I’m so sick of these companies trying to “loophole” their ways forward, why don’t they come up with a better product instead? Next thing you know they’re going to be suing Google for their algorithm specifically because their ranking factor of distance from the centroid of the city isn’t fair to suburb businesses. COME ON!! I’m sick and tired of this!

  • http://www.redeyeops.com Jacob C Lowe

    I have a website that I run for my employers. What I really hate about search is when I search for a our business on Google and get like 20 yelp listings then some yellow book, then some citysearch. I would like to drive my listing to the top but half the time these listing are completely pushing down the actual site. I would love the traffic that they are stealing from our small business.

    I love how Google put place at the top because it actually will put out listing above those. When the link is clicked it will actually go to our sites page. I look of places as not a service but more of a section of their algorithm that actually finds relevant data.

    I hate when you have large companies like Bing complaining about traffic. Our small business would like that traffic as well. I guess since we cant afford lawyers to cry for us we get no say.

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