• http://www.linkedin.com/in/philipsegal Philip Segal

    I agree with this article in the sense that I believe a lot of the recent clamor about Google’s favoritism is from businesses who are sour from losing their free Google traffic. Google bought Youtube because it was the most popular video site and they favor Youtube in the results for whatever reason, naturally based on their algorithm or otherwise, and it’s fine because it’s relevant (ie. what searchers want).

    But where do you draw the line? What happens if Google keeps buying companies in each vertical, and soon owns the major players in addition to the playground?

    Google wants in on Travel, much to the chagrin of everyone in the industry. Google recently bought Like.com, created Boutiques.com and is now buying Adwords ads and competing organically with the company I work for (Shopzilla), not to mention their recent favoritism of Google Product Search in the results, much to the chagrin of the entire Comparison Shopping industry. They all but killed Mapquest when they moved into maps. Etc, etc., etc.

    I’m not saying I agree or disagree with any of this; a business that builds it’s core competency around organic search does not “own the right” to that traffic. But once again, where do we draw the line? Is Google a Search Engine or the owner of all online commerce?

    As they continue to blur the line between their original purpose as an intermediary between Point A and Point B by… buying Point B so they can be Point A and Point B… well, once again I ask, where do we draw the line?

    There isn’t yet a clear answer in the law or in our minds – this is completely new territory, and a company has never held so much power. I think we are going to find out where that line is in the coming years, and I think we’ll look back on 2010-2011 as the time when Google began overstepping its bounds.

  • http://rockfi.sh steveplunkett

    Danny Sullivan is the greatest search engine journalist on the planet.. there.. i said it..

    thanks danny.

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

    And then there is the claim by Foundem that Google manually adjusted its algorithm to “whitelist” their aggregated content (in violation of Google guidelines) after intervention from the AdSense team.

    Google is certainly not the only search service to promote its own content (or content on which it is being paid) — so we don’t have to hang them for that.

    But where should the line be drawn? How much self-promotion should we tolerate from the top 2 search engines before we say, “Enough! Let us compete for your visitors the way we want to!”?

  • http://www.blindfiveyearold.com ajkohn

    I’m on the fence with this one because there are so many ways to look at it.

    19% isn’t exactly trivial. But there’s no real way to determine whether that occurred because of bias or on algorithmic relevancy that is specific to Google. While the CTR data is compelling – was really the only part of the analysis that made me wrinkle my brow – you simply can’t assume that it’s THE piece that should determine rank.

    Then I am of two minds about whether this is really an issue or not at all. As you point out, there is still visibility for competitors – usually within one or two positions. So should we hold it against Google for being higher? Should we even if they’re putting an elbow on the scale?

    There’s a line there obviously, but I can’t say I get too worked up about it.

    Conversely, I am uneasy with Onebox implementations and presentations. They take up an enormous amount of real estate and are triggered and displayed in varying degrees and times of year. OneBox essentially unseats an algorithmic result.

    I’m okay with Google being the first link. It’s their engine. I get it. But what about the other links in the OneBox?

    The OneBox results are not always (I’d like to say frequently but should do more research before throwing that out there) aligned with the algorithmic results. For instance, you might be the third algorithmic result, but have no link within that OneBox.

    So, not only does Google capture a prime position in OneBox but other sites rise or fall based on who appears in that OneBox. And it isn’t always clear how those decisions are made.

    Just one example of this is to search for ‘diabetes insipidus’. There’s a Health OneBox that lists Google first, then Mayo Clinic, Medline Plus and WebMD.

    The algorithmic results are quite different with Wikipedia and diabetesInsipidus.org as top results. Medline Plus (aka NIH) is actually ahead of Mayo Clinic and … WebMD isn’t in the algorithmic results at all.

    That seems more of a concern than whether the top two mail providers are flip-flopped at the top of results. All in all, never a dull moment in search – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • nicholaslatham

    Sorry Danny but your argument about “So what do I get in a search for search engine on Google?” does not really work. You are on Google doing the search – there is no need to show bias by ranking Google first, as you are already there. The other searches relate to a different product (i.e. leaving search to go to mail, shopping, calendar etc) Would you rather they show a link where the searcher clicks to take them to the page they are already on??

    Rather in this case to show bias, what I would do would be to downgrade the rankings of my nearest competitors and artificially boost the rankings of sites such as “Dogpile”, which are not so useful. The likelihood is that people would bounce straight back to Google.com.

  • Giacomo Banchero

    it would be interesting to analyse the google beahviuor with the ugc from blogger, youtube, picasa…etc…

  • http://daggle.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Philip, I think you draw the line – or at least pay more attention — to when Google is running destination sites rather than search engines.

    http://searchengineland.com/the-incredible-stupidity-of-investigating-google-for-acting-like-a-search-engine-57268 is an article above that I linked to which gets into this more.

    If Google wants to offer shopping search, it just makes sense. Why wouldn’t you let a search engine offer a specialized shopping search. It’s like saying a grocery store can’t sell certain products that people would expect it to.

    If you say no — that Google can’t buy or perhaps fully use verticals it has built — you’re limiting its ability to compete. Bing gets to have travel search but Google can’t? It makes no sense. It makes even less sense for companies that hope to be acquired.

    When Google was prevented from doing a deal — not a purchase but just a deal — with Yahoo, suddenly the Microsoft offer for went from a value of $9 billion or more to “OK, Yahoo, you can keep 88% of what you sell.”

    http://searchengineland.com/microsoft-yahoo-deals-2008-2009-side-by-side-23245

    In the end, vertical search engines still send outbound traffic to others. Where more attention should be paid is when Google has destinations of its own. YouTube is a classic example. Are Google’s searches full of YouTube content because Google favors YouTube (as some assume) or because there’s a lot of content on YouTube (as Google contends).

    AJ, the 19% is trivial, when you consider some assume it is much higher. But that number is really meaningless. I used it more to stress how difficult these numbers are in reality. Edelman can take these same stats and come out with something much higher. But the point is, to me, the fundamentals of the study are so flawed that none of the stats from it are valid.

    Nicholas, it’s a perfectly valid and important question that shouldn’t get dismissed, as some do, with the “well, you’re already on Google” argument.

    Know what’s a top query on Google? Searches for Google. Go hit Google Insights for search, put the number searching for either sex or Hotmail, both known as popular terms, alongside Google. Who are these crazy people searching for Google on Google?

    It doesn’t really matter, however. Google’s result are supposed to provide the most relevant answer. There is simply no way that Google’s results for “search engine” are relevant when it fails to list the most popular search engine in the world — Google.

  • http://www.LivingInMacon.com Jonathan Rainer

    Search Maps on bing.com and Bing’s maps do show first on my query. (this is the only one I tested).

    Now, I have to ask: what in the world is wrong with Google maintaining a bias for certain results? Who cares? If I’m on Google and search for maps, I probably want Google’s map app. I’ve searched for Google voice before because it’s easier to search than figure what the exact URL is for it. I want Google Voice to show up first, not some random site in Russia. Chances are that if I want to find Yahoo’s email system, I’m going to go to Yahoo first and search there.

    Great article, BTW. I know your point is to strike a balance against his biased analysis of the numbers, but it really bothers me that a Harvard professor is spending hours trying to figure out that Google is in business for Google, not for Yahoo and Bing. I’m a Realtor, and if someone calls me asking about a listing, I’m not going to tell them that another agent can show the property. I’m going to tell them I can show them property. It’s what I do. Google is better at mail, maps, and many things that it does (with social media sites the obvious exception). Those search terms should result in Google products ranking first.

  • http://www.rlmseo.com John Crenshaw

    Great article. Who cares if Google is promoting their own products…on one of their own products? That’s what businesses do, and it’s a good idea…it helps make your customers aware of other opportunities to do business with you.

    Why are people whining about whether Google favors itself over competitors? They are a for profit company, that’s what they’re supposed to do, and they’re obviously very careful about how they go about doing that. I think Google’s doing everything right on this front.

    I’ve got to mention the reference to “google.com” not appearing in a search for “search engine.” I think the assumption there is that if you’re searching Google.com for “search engine,” you don’t want Google.com in your results…unless you’ve got some sort mental issue.

  • Chris Harvey

    A couple interesting trends I noticed that it didn’t seem like you hit on (but I may have missed it given the late hour and my skimming some of this)

    1) Bing frequently lists wikipedia as a high result. More frequently than Yahoo and Google, I should say. And there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, as people frequently will want to read a wikipedia article on whatever topic they happen to search for. But as a more relevant result than say, gmail/hotmail for email or popular video sites? I’m not sure that makes sense

    2) When you exclude duplicate entries (by this i mean multiple results from the same domain taking multiple spots in the rankings) and compare google and yahoo directly, google doesn’t seem to rank itself first anymore than yahoo does, and in fact gives yahoo better standing than yahoo does google, not to mention the frequency of placement agreement (rss readers, for example)