Search Engines Should Be Like Santa From “Miracle On 34th Street”

That didn’t take long. In my coverage today about the new Google “Search Plus Your World” feature, I detailed how part of it gave hefty ammunition to claims that Google is abusing its dominant position in search. The anti-trust charges have now already started. Here’s the short story why.

Imagine, Sending People To Other Stores!

One of my favorite movies is “Miracle On 34th Street.” The original, not the remake, by the way. For those not familiar, Kris Kringle — the real Santa Claus — gets hired to play the Macy’s Santa Claus.

He nearly gets fired when it’s discovered that he’s sending people away to other stores rather than Macy’s, if other stores have the right gift for a child or a better price. But then Macy’s realizes the shoppers love its store even more for the “send away” policy.

One woman in particular says:

Listen. I want to congratulate you and Macy’s on this wonderful new stunt you’re pulling. Imagine, sending people to other stores. I don’t get it… Imagine a big outfit like Macy’s putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial. It’s wonderful.

Search Engine Santas

That’s how search engines are supposed to be. They’re supposed to send you away to the best information, even if they don’t have their own in stock.

In fact, at first, search engines didn’t even have anything “in stock” of their own to send people to. When some search engines like Yahoo or Lycos became portals in the late 1990s, we started seeing a “Search Santa” that wasn’t so generous, that didn’t want the shoppers to leave.

Google’s Has Been A Stellar Santa

Google has largely held up to the Miracle On 34th Street model. The charges that Google favors itself have come from an incredibly tiny number of competitors, some of whom complain they’re not being favored enough when they get three-quarters of ALL their traffic from Google.

Hey, that’s not Google competing. That’s Google ushering huge numbers of its own potential “shoppers” out the door to Gimbel’s.

Most of these charges I find laughable. Seriously laughable. Quite frankly, if Google never existed, and the dominant search player that had grown up was Yahoo or Microsoft, there’s an excellent chance that people would be paying through the nose just for the “right” to be included for a chance to rank well.

People who don’t understand this simply have no idea of history in the search space, no memory of the dark days of paid inclusion. Google has been an exceptionally good actor given the dominance it has in the search space.

If you really don’t believe it, go check the traffic you receive from search engines. Is 65% of it coming from Google versus other search engines? Chances are, you’re getting more than that, despite that being Google’s share of the search market. For that to happen, it means the other search engines are recycling more “shoppers” back to their own stores than Google does

If you really care about understanding these facts. If you really want to have an open mind, to form an opinion out of evidence and rational thought rather than knee-jerk anti-Google hatred, check out the articles I’ve listed at the end in the anti-trust section for some really detailed send-ups of anti-trust claims.

But Google’s Showing A Different Side, Today

Today is different. Today’s change is one of the few times where I’m thinking “What the hell are you doing, Google?” Anyone familiar with my writings, I’d like to believe, knows that when I ring an alarm bell, there’s a really good reason to start heading toward the fire exits.

I’m not alone. Twitter’s already sent out a statement over the move:

For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet.

Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results.

We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.

MG Siegler also gives Google a hard rap on the head, as well, in his post. There will be more of this to come.

On The Matter Of Anti-Trust, The Court Will Hear Evidence….

There are two areas of possible dispute:

  1. Google is only listing information from its Google+ posts
  2. Google is offering suggested users to follow from its Google+ network

The first is debatable. Google is prevented for various reasons from accessing privately or less-than-publicly (let’s call this “limited”) information shared at places like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and others.

Some of these reasons aren’t in Google’s control. Does anyone really believe that Facebook decided to let Bing have its data but not Google because Mark Zuckerberg thought an “underdog” would do better with it, as he said at the time?

In Twitter’s case, it generates so much data that it simply cannot be gathered up by Google in normal ways. If Twitter wants to be fully indexed by Google in the way its statement claims, it need to provide a firehose of data to Google.

Google would gladly take it, I’m sure. But my guess is that Google no longer wants to pay for it, much less carry Twitter’s ads on its own site, both things that were part of its previous deal with Twitter and virtually unprecedented for Google to do for anyone.

We don’t know all the details, who’s to blame for what and in what proportions for all of this. We do know that both Facebook and Twitter currently get plenty of traffic from Google even without formal cooperation.

This Isn’t Santa-Like

The second is cause for serious concern. There’s no reason that a search for something like “music” should give special positioning to suggest people follow social media accounts from Britney Spears, Alicia Keys or Snoop Dogg, just because those accounts are on Google Plus:

If these artists are on other social networks (and I’m sure they all are), those should be suggested as well. If Google’s in the business of now recommending people to follow socially, then as a Search Santa, it should be sending people to wherever the best places are. Even if they’re not at Google.

That, by the way, is equally true for Bing. Ironically, it kicked out a bunch of merchants on what seems pretty flimsy grounds just before Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That felt very much like it wasn’t playing the Search Santa role it’s supposed to, as well.

NOTE: Miracle On 34th Street imagine blatantly taken from IMDb. I hope they’ll forgive me. Read about the movie there.

Postscript: See:

For further follow-ups on the Twitter-Google dispute.

Related: Facebook, Twitter & Google Data War

Related: Facebook & Bing

Related: Bing’s Holiday Banning

Related: Google Anti-Trust

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: Analysis | Google: Antitrust | Google: Critics | Top News


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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    One of the most interesting posts I have ever read.. Of course that is how it should work. Still waiting for the miracle

  • Emory Rowland

    Very cool analogy. What happens when Google starts doing this for political and not just commercial motives?

  • ChrisFree

    1.Wouldn’t it be nice if the feature
    were optional and could be turned-off
    or not activated in the first place.

    2. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the twitter toy-store would
    have simply played nice with Santa so the Google elves
    could have found better ways to access to their toys-list
    so Santa could be more miracle-like.

    3. Wouldn’t it be nice if could simply
    take the kids to the Gimbels’ Santa
    if you didn’t like the Macy’s Santa.

    Miracles can happen.

  • TimmyTime

    Looks like Google is about to reverse this, other Danny would not have written it. Or is hell freezing over?

    A few points Danny: I am all for SEs to do what they want, assuming they are honest. If you want to promote advertisers, partners, or your content, fine. Do it, but the financial interest has to be disclosed clearly and the SE has to say that they are biased. Without going in too much detail, it has been pointed several times the tricks that are played with colors and font size for “Ads” and organic search hidden by ads and SE’s own content.

    If you say that you are impartial and show your content first regardless of merit, then you deserve a crippling fine.

    I too remember the dark days, but that was before there was serious money to be made. Google and even Bing can make a lot of money by placing 2 (TWO) clearly marked ads on top and others on the side. If you aim to make $100 billion a year, then something has to give, and that thing is objectivity. Google was making a lot of money before 2007 too, wasn’t it Danny? But they want more and more and more. Where is it going to come from when now it’s almost a zero sum game? Sites. What type of websites is Google going to hurt in June? What about next February?

    Panda and what Bing did should be investigated, along their algorithms. Why? Because both Google and Bing say that they are unbiased and show what is the best answer for the users. So let us see for ourselves. If they lied all the people need to go to jail and all their assets seized, just as the Feds do to crooked Wall Street firms that play their own book .

  • Mark Traphagen

    Google has responded to Twitter, on it’s official page at Google+:

    “We are a bit surprised by Twitter’s comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer (, and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.”

  • mesel

    Regarding twitter/google deal – Google just paid $900M to firefox in order to renew a deal which will no longer be necessary as chrome/android continue skyrocket. So the claim that google did not want to pay a fraction of that to keep the twitter firehose working are clearly weak.

    The bigger issue had to be the terms that twitter was possibly imposing and how it could potentially limit what you see today – google search plus google+. Keep in mind that at Google’s scale, more often than not it’s not about the dollar cost but the opportunity cost. $11B for motorola mobility should drive that home.

  • TimmyTime

    “and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.””

    uh, no you haven’t. Or tweets have many outside links, you can try if you do not believe me. Twitter was asking around $100 million a year (or maybe for 3 years) so a sane person finds it hard to believe that Google would not want all that data for what amounts to peanuts. Erik Schmidt’s bonus was more than $100 million last year and by having Twitter’s data Google had access to lots and lots of quality signals.

  • Dr Thomas M Campbell

    Google has the right to do whatever they want.

    That said, Google should not forget Prodigy, or America Online, or Yahoo. All of which, at one time, had vast control over the web. And all of which, as a result of overexerting that control, forced their customers away. People flocked to Google because it worked better. It gave better results. If Google inbreeds with itself, it will simply become weakened.

    Google can change whatever they want to but I feel they best remember they aren’t the only people who can design a search engine and their entire existence is based on how well they operate as a search engine.

  • Joel Chudleigh

    I think that 2 things are motivating Google to make some poor decisions over the past year and they are both tied to each other:

    1) Fear of other social networks.
    2) Pressure from stock holders for profit.

    Now they have to balance an ethical policy with financial profit. These two do not actually have to be at odds, like you so quite rightly point out with the Santa on 34th Analogy but it seems that some of the senior people in Google have taken fear to heart and do not have the guts to take a gamble on long term success and instead are pushing for short term profits to please wall st.

    They are taking the gamble that users will do what they (Google) want in the short term which could potentially sink a number of other social networks (they think) and then all will be forgotten and Google will be the hero again.

    However, they are probably too late in the game to pull that off and will end up causing themselves some serious damage.

  • D.M.

    Yes, let’s fine this free service for using the platform they created to provide content to you that you signed up to see (the Google+account you set up, which shows you content from people you chose to follow). I’m not a Google fan girl. I know what havoc they wreak with their considerable control. But get a grip.

  • Ciarán Norris

    “NOTE: Miracle On 34th Street imagine blatantly taken from IMDb. I hope they’ll forgive me”

    I’m pretty sure you don’t need to ask IMDb, but you might want to ask these guys ;)

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