To Understand Google Favoritism, Think “If Google+ Were YouTube”

Google’s favoritism of Google+ in its new Search Plus results is just the latest in the line of favoritism it has done with vertical search? It’s not, because Google hasn’t really favored itself with vertical search. It is favoring itself with Google+, and that’s why things are so disturbing.

Vertical Search Is What Search Engines Should Do

Long-time Google-critic and occasional Microsoft consultant Ben Edelman has this out today:

I’ve found more than a dozen Google services receiving favored placement in Google search results. Consider Google Blog Search, Google Book Search, Google Checkout, Google Health, Google Images, Google Maps, Google News, Google Realtime, Google Shopping, and Google Video. Some have developed into solid products with loyal users. Others are far weaker. But each enjoys a level of favored placement in Google search results that other services can only dream of.

That complaint about vertical search favoritism is the type of thing I previous said I found laughable from Google critics (though that doesn’t mean everything Edelman says is laughable, nor should be dismissed just because of his Microsoft connections).

Providing vertical search results that lead OUT of your web site is exactly what search engines should do. That’s why Bing does it, as well.

To understand more, read these past posts from me:

Especially read the last two, if you really care about understanding this important issue.

Google+ Is Not Vertical Search

Google+ is a completely different creature. Google+ is a Google destination, a place people go not to search and exit Google but to hang around.

Yes, plenty may leave through shared links. But Google+ is not a search engine, nor was it designed to be a way to search through all the web’s socially shared content.

Google did have something like this. It was Google Realtime Search, which Google decided it had to close when it failed to renew an agreement with Twitter for however that failed to happened. See these articles for more about that:

Google+ Is First Non-Search Engine With “Results” In Google

Since Google+ it’s not a search engine, having Google+ suggestions positioned on the Google search results pages is simply unprecedented in my time covering the company — and I’ve covered it from the start.

I cannot recall any other product where Google has done this. The search results page has always been for showing search results that come from a diverse list of sources, with the exception of maybe Google Books, where it’s hard to find similar book search engines that should be included

To really understand the big change that has happened here, how it is far different from what critics have mistakenly considered some type of unfair favoritism in the past, consider this.

Google Video Vs. YouTube

When Google launched Google Universal Search in 2008, it took great care to stress that video content blended into its results came from Google Video, not from YouTube. That’s because YouTube doesn’t have video from across the entire web. Google Video was a more inclusive service.

Now imagine if this week, Google had announced that YouTube results would replace the Google Video results displayed when you do a search. Suddenly, video content from across the web would have no visibility.

Google+ Results = YouTube, Not Google Video

That’s what Google did with the Google+ results that now get shown. It effectively launched a “who to follow” search engine, a way to show people and companies with social accounts that searchers might be interested in. But it based that solely around Google+, when it has the data to include social accounts from Twitter and Facebook, as well.

You can easily see this. Do a search that triggers the Google+ suggestions to come up, such as “music.” Click on the “see more” link at the bottom of those results. You’ll be taken into results from Google+ itself, like this.

Google+ equals YouTube, not Google Video, not a way to search beyond Google’s own hosted content.

Yes, it can seem like YouTube is favored by Google (especially more and more) in Google’s search results, but much of that is down to YouTube simply having so much content. It drowns out other things, sometimes rightfully so.

So Build A Real “Who To Follow” Search Engine

Google+ is a different issue. It’s not drowning out the others, because the others aren’t even being allowed to swim in the pool.

I’d love to see is Google retool the social suggestions that come up, so they aren’t simply Google+ “People & Pages” results injected into Google but more inclusive of other social sites, as well. Because that type of inclusive search product is what Google does well, and what we expect for the company to provide.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Features: Analysis | Google: Antitrust | Google: Critics | Google: Google+ | Google: Web Search | 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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  • Winooski

    Cheers for making the Google+-to-YouTube comparison. That does a good job of helping us understand how Google’s promotion of Google+ within Search results is an unprecedented misstep for the company (and this on the heels of Google’s recent disservice to publishers by denying them the organic search query keywords of logged-in users).

    It’s almost like Google is daring the government to step up any antitrust investigations. Google’s competitors certainly aren’t going to miss the opportunity to point out its increasingly monopolistic behavior.

  • Calum Shepherd

    Completely agree with this and the above comment. I really feel like the update is more “Your World plus Search” and less “Search plus Your World”. My immediate world and that of Google+ is now so dominating, quality results appears to be going missing. I wrote a little about this on my blog, which might be of further interest.

    With this said, if they do begin to open up this new landscape a little further, the ability to search either personalised results based upon recommendation, or results based upon traditional relevance and authority, then it can only be a good thing!

  • Renk

    So does Google’s Search plus Your World show results from Orkut too?

  • Durant Imboden

    Danny, you’ve got a point, but the “favoritism” issue is likely to be academic for most searches–and for most searchers, who don’t use Google+.

    As for me, I’m just glad that the SERPs have a button that lets me hide Google+ results. And I’m happy that Facebook and Twitter aren’t playing nice with Google, since the cure for clutter isn’t even more clutter.

  • Ben Edelman

    I like the comparison to Google’s treatment of YouTube and Google Video. But let’s look at where that leads us. shows how Google favors a YouTube result — giving the YouTube result a prominent thumbnail, while the exact same video on another site (indeed, on the official, authoritative site of the publisher who invested the effort to make the video) gets no thumbnail. Doesn’t look like Google is giving the other video site equal treatment.

    Many folks here recall the multi-year period when merchants using Google Checkout enjoyed shopping cart icons adjacent to their AdWords links. Merchants who used other streamlined checkout services (like Paypal) got no such benefit.

    Fact is, Google has repeatedly used its power over search to leverage its other services. Google has used tying to benefit its vertical search services (which Danny thinks is fine). Google has also used tying to benefit its non-search services, like its video hosting service, its checkout service, and now its social service. Whether we should be concerned when Google uses tying to benefit vertical search is something Danny and I can disagree about. But if folks agree that Google’s favored placement of Google Plus is a problem, I think my other examples should be of concern also. This probably really is bigger than Google Plus.

  • P.S.P.

    Well Google created their + social network, so cannot Facebook and Twitter do similar? – i.e create their own search engines, or partner with a search/platform provider? G takes on (presumably) F@T – hence reverse – F@T take on G. Imagine if Google Search went “offline” (i.e. vanished) for a week, would it be easy for users to find relevant items from within (or externally) Facebook or Twitter? If not…then make it so, by creating and promoting their own engines…

  • cromwellian

    I don’t get the “favor vertical search” argument. A search engine is supposed to search stuff. Consumers don’t care where it comes from — web links, government databases, the library of congress, NASDAQ. I come to a Text Entry Box, with a flashing cursor, and I want to ask a question, and get an answer, ultimately, just like on Star Trek.

    The idea that somehow searching financial data, or weather, or housing, movie reviews, or airline data is somehow something wholly different and “shalt not be integrated into 10-blue-link-web-search” is ludicrous.

    Apple’s Siri really shows what the end user wants: ask a question, consult a battery of vertical services, and respond with answers. Universal Search.

    Trying to wall off these databases from one another and demand that Google be restricted to only “web search” is bad for end users. Knowledge is multiplicative, and combining databases gives you even more signals to use.

    On the social box thingy, I basically agree that Google should show results from other networks, just like when you search for “GOOG” it will show Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft finance site links. But I don’t really believe that Google should have to pay blogging sites that publish public data (which twitter is) for the rights to index their data. That destroys the whole value proposition of the open web, if sites start demanding search engines pay them for the right to index, when in fact, they derive tremendous value from the indexing.

  • S.E.

    One Google misstep that has not gotten a lot of attention is the whole Google Related thing. When people came out with a CSS-only ‘disable-switch,’ Google deliberately made doing so more difficult.
    (css no longer works, with update similar to below)
    (requires JavaScript+jQuery)

    In general, this is a new pattern for Google. I question the legality, or at least the ethics of injecting competitor content within your web page’s DOM/content.

    As for what cromwellian said, actually, it’s not clear whether, de jure, Google has a right to index any copyrighted content. De facto it has become OK, but the idea that you have to opt out rather than opt in is not the way copyright law was ever conceived. Not sure why you’re bringing this up, but most search engines are on shaky legal ground. I’m not sure if an inverted index is fair use, but the cache link for sure runs afoul of many interpretations of copyright law.

  • N.T.

    Search Plus Your World seems to be more like Up Yours than anything else.

  • Jan Larsson

    Why cant we have a simple predictable search engine for the web?

    All this personalized social stuff is flawed thinking. Unless you know my context, why I make the search, you cant filter the results. Am I searching just for me? For a family event? Some other group activity? Is the search part of my work preparing a report (at home) for the next morning or is it for planning a private event?

    And so on … Google doesnt know this. And any tampering Google does with my search results makes them irrelevant.

    And on top of this Google Search now means search within googles own closed walled garden. I didnt know about the personalization going on – this debate made it clear to me I have find a better search engine.

  • FMJohnson

    The Joy of Tech has a great cartoon on this subject:

    Larry Page visits his younger self…

  • John C Abell

    Wouldn’t your YouTube analogy be stronger if other social networks didn’t specifically prevent being indexed by Google Search? All video wants to bubble up in Google, but Facebook does not. Don’t you think Google would be agnostic — perhaps even favor FB as it did Twitter in Real-time search — if FB didn’t prevent this? If so, should Google be penalized (penalize itself) because the best source of social graf data has itself opted out of the web?

  • kenhoward

    I am looking at these changes to Google Search as two different things.

    1. People now have an option of using “Social Search” within Google
    2. You can exclude your social graph by using the “World Search”

    I for one am enjoying the “Social Search” at the moment because I can easily find articles that were shared by people in my circles even if I haven’t accessed Google+ in weeks(which is the case). There’s a lot of value in this type of search, but it’s not for everyone and should not be used for every search(school research papers, religion, politics, daily news, etc.).

  • Simon Temple

    Mainstream press haven’t picked up on this yet, but there’s an arbitrage game also at play.


    The example given in the post above, queries for brand searches, (“New York Times” is the example cited) with will feed those queries back to G+ via the SERPs. As a large brand you’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t push your content on G+.

    Laughable as aggregators were the target of engineers in the Panda update. That is, sites that offer no unique value, (But aggregate content). Well, there’s no value in arbitraging other peoples content except to Google… and in this example, it appears to be OK.

  • Frances Monro

    Don’t like Google search results (or spammy ads)? Just click somewhere else!

  • Kevin Spence

    I know I’m the minority, but I find the idea of searching private things within Google to be a pretty cool idea.

    I’m a webmaster yes, but on a personal level I wish I could search my bookmarks, gmail, and google docs from a universal search bar.

  • samra aziz

    Its a good idea regarding google and youtube..thats appreciatable work.


  • Víctor Hugo Benítez

    Don’t like google? Use another think. Not good enough for you? Stop whining!

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