Google May Have To Change Search Results

By: Chris Crum - June 1, 2012

Joaquin Almunia, the European Commission’s head of competition, has expressed concerns about Google, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to result in a long, drawn-out legal process for the company. Almunia and Google seem to be in the process of talking things out, and that may or may not lead to Google making some changes, at least in Europe.

A Google spokesperson tells WebProNews, “We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission.”

The Guardian’s Charles Arthur reports that Almunia has given Google until July 2 to come up with suitable changes to its search results “or face the threat of being taken to court and potentially huge fines.”

Almunia seems to want to get things resolved quickly one way or another. He recently released a lengthy statement, saying, “I believe that these fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified. Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable to lengthy proceedings, although these sometimes become indispensable to competition enforcement.”

In the statement, he then went on to outline the four specific concerns the Commission has with Google’s business practices.

The first:

First, in its general search results on the web, Google displays links to its own vertical search services. Vertical search services are specialised search engines which focus on specific topics, such as for example restaurants, news or products. Alongside its general search service, Google also operates several vertical search services of this kind in competition with other players.

In its general search results, Google displays links to its own vertical search services differently than it does for links to competitors. We are concerned that this may result in preferential treatment compared to those of competing services, which may be hurt as a consequence.

Interestingly, Google just revealed this week that it is transitioning its free Google Product Search to a sponsored/paid inclusion model in Google Shopping. Google says this transition will be complete in the fall, in the U.S. It will be interesting to see if this expands throughout Google’s international properties, particularly in Europe.

Some are suggesting that this represents Google’s shift away to the “do no evil” policy. Owen Thomas at Business Insider, for example, writes, “Let’s just admit that Google is evil now, okay?”

A WebProNews reader commented, “Many small companies have used Google ( Froogle, Base, Shopping ) as their resource for free advertising of their products. This is just an attack on those small companies and only allow companies who can afford to pay to do so.”

Comments such as these aren’t likely to help Google’s antitrust cases, and let’s not forget that the FTC is looking at Google in the U.S. too.

Long time search analyst Danny Sullivan says, “Paid relationships can be good,” and “The fact Google considered paid inclusion evil in the past is an embarrassment that some will have a good chuckle about. But companies do change stances. The bigger issue in all this is whether the shift is good for searchers and publishers.”

Almunia’s second concern:

Our second concern relates to the way Google copies content from competing vertical search services and uses it in its own offerings. Google may be copying original material from the websites of its competitors such as user reviews and using that material on its own sites without their prior authorisation. In this way they are appropriating the benefits of the investments of competitors. We are worried that this could reduce competitors’ incentives to invest in the creation of original content for the benefit of internet users. This practice may impact for instance travel sites or sites providing restaurant guides.

To this point, we’ve seen competitors like Yelp complain about Google using their reviews in Google Places in the past. It just so happens that Google made another major announcement this week regarding local search, in that it is shifting to Google+ Page-based local results, which will provide reviews from its own Zagat (acquired last year), and from Google+-based friends.

This may give Google less of reason to aggregate outside reviews, but at the same time, it places increased focus on Google properties. It will be interesting to see how regulators view this move.

It’s worth noting that with this movie, Google is giving small businesses more tools to reach their customers on a social level (with Google+ features, such as Hangouts).

Almunia’s third and fourth concerns:

Almunia’s other concerns are related to Google AdWords and competition.

Our third concern relates to agreements between Google and partners on the websites of which Google delivers search advertisements. Search advertisements are advertisements that are displayed alongside search results when a user types a query in a website’s search box. The agreements result in de facto exclusivity requiring them to obtain all or most of their requirements of search advertisements from Google, thus shutting out competing providers of search advertising intermediation services. This potentially impacts advertising services purchased for example by online stores, online magazines or broadcasters.

Our fourth concern relates to restrictions that Google puts to the portability of online search advertising campaigns from its platform AdWords to the platforms of competitors. AdWords is Google’s auction-based advertising platform on which advertisers can bid for the placement of search ads on search result pages provided by Google. We are concerned that Google imposes contractual restrictions on software developers which prevent them from offering tools that allow the seamless transfer of search advertising campaigns across AdWords and other platforms for search advertising.

Another of Google’s recent major announcements – the Knowledge Graph – is reportedly increasing the number of searches on Google, and it just so happens that this gives Google more opportunities to display AdWords ads.

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • Marc

    I find it ironic that the Commission on Competition is attempting to refuse Google’s ability to use whatever methodology it wants to provide search results. Search results are merely an opinion of what is relevant to what you type in. If people don’t like that opinion, Google will lose market share, thus the market will handle this on its own.

    Its like walking into a hardware store that makes their own tools. They have every right to promote their own tools over others, and if the result was they were promoting inferior products, the market would eventually go elsewhere.

    But to suggest that you HAVE to promote a competitor just to be fair would completely prevent the hardware store from competing on an equal basis with their own tools, which is exactly what the result of this commission’s suggestions would do to Google.

    This the irony is that in the attempt to promote competition they’d actually prevent Google from competing on an equal basis. Google is taking their own risks here in an attempt to be able to stay relevant. interfering with that is entirely anti-competitive. For shame.

    • bob

      google is not a democracy, them is search engine. But search engine which unable to index websites normally and started big dance like ‘we will deindex you’, use nofollow, no more than 3 ads per page, no clickbank links, etc. Them started changing web and it happen because only no real competition. So now we have a G monster who using content & photos of other companies, and promote their adword sites everywhere in searches by my company name, even in top 3 adwords cheat links. Is it good practice?
      Them not creating any content, only penalize it. Them promote only wikipedia and amazon and youtube – see their search results.

      So you explanation is incorrect. It same as you go information center, asking where ‘company’ located and get first 3 false addresses of adwords promo sites, wikipedia page – because they know everything, youtube video to see what drunken worker shoot in office, and at end only you get address of company.

      But if you sell cars for example – forget completely about ranking by ‘sell car’, here is monsters as amazon. them rank even for sex toys, but i all times thinked what nonadult link to adult penalized. but, oh – i forget about google + amazon directors and private affiliation.

      • Marc

        Except that 88% of the worldwide market disagrees with you as they happily use Google search over all other available search engines. If Google was so obtrusive the market would go elsewhere, and only the market should decide. The commission getting involved is not only unnecessary, but its anti competitive.

        I don’t see anyone complaining about Bing promoting FB in its search despite having a major ownership role in FB. Thus there is no objectivity either.

  • Kris phils

    This is the end of online democracy which Google used to be an advocate of in the past. Though it is good to blow your own trumpet at times, but blowing the right rhythm is what matters here. Unfortunately for Google there are beginning to go a little over the fence to do the extraordinary. What ever happens from now is what we the searchers decide. Remember there’s Bing and maybe Yahoo still on the outlook and if this situation is anything to go by, then this is a good sign for both companies. My advice to Google is dont start a war that might end up making you more vulnerable instead of stronger. Those who live in glass houses dont throw stones. Get a clue.

    • bob

      google already started war named penguin. See amazon & wikipedia in top everywhere. See lot of misleading ads top 3 and sidebars in google search results. Funny what them do anything to MAKE FAST MONEY and against all their ‘white hat’ webmaster guidelines. It tell what them know and using this moment to get maximum amount of money only. Google is not same company anymore for long time, now it commercial monster only.

  • bob

    this is a good news. Hope ‘not evil’ ‘corporation of honesty’ get a shoot. Position about vertical market (youtube/news) in global search is ok. However I not see position to get rid of wikipedia, yahoo answers and amazon from google search results. Amazon affiliation with google is well known, why nothing about this topic here?
    Wikipedia provides many incorrect even false information, but free and it google tell peoples about bad neighbors. It why google created that seo monster as wikipedia – because webmasters tryed to link top10 websites without penalties, and it was wikipedia at most cases.

    Amazon in top search results (but just see their horrible internal linking structure!) because affiliation with google and lot of links (same as PAID) from affiliates. Looks like need to find contacts to this guy and email him about it.

  • Denise

    Google is killing small businesses on the Internet. My small hosting provider had 44 sites taken down in 2 weeks. Small businesses are what make the economy grow. The federal government should sue Google.

  • Mark

    The only thing that comes to mind when I think of Google is how they have managed to take over the entire internet world wide and strangle it to death and suck every last breath out of it for its own benefit.

    This rule Google has about paid advertising, paid links, sponsored links and penalizing anyone who buys links is pathetic and self serving. If we can’t buy links to promote our websites how do we ever get them going. I’m talking about small businesses, we can’t rely on the kind folks of the internet to give free links when they don’t even know we exist.

    This policy obviously benefits Google. If we can’t buy links on sites we like we only have the option to pay for Google Adwords where Google once again greedily grabs all of our money and as soon as we stop paying them all I website promotion stops with it. It’s convenient that Google provides advertising that cant benefit anyone with search engine optimization due to JavaScript links and paid direct html coded links are penalized if paid for – yes it’s self serving.

    Google we want to advertise our sites without being penalized! Who do you think you are destroying small businesses where ever you go. You disgust me killing small businesses when you’re rolling in billions of dollars. We’re tired of being penalized we also want to put food on the table for our families, time you put something back into the internet rather than take, take, take. Stop penalizing us for advertising our sites, if we want to pay for advertising to get more business we should not be crushed by you for trying to earn a crust!

    Google’s heavy handed tack tics include unranking and destroying small business by removing all pagerank as well as dropping small business sites from their index. Google loves making people pay! They feed off it!

  • Mark

    If Google doesn’t like paid advertising they should just ignore the links, they don’t have to stifle small businesses just because we want to buy or sell links and earn some extra cash. Google the greediest web based business should know we as small business owners also like to earn money. We also don’t have the know how to produce a great business like Google. I wish you would put your great business to good use and stop killing the small business guy. Leave us alone! Matt Cutts, you’re a clever guy but you’re cruel and nasty behind that nice smile. We want to buy and sell links, yes we want a tiny little piece of the pie – let us live!

    • Steve G

      If it’s strictly for advertising purpose and not SEO benefit, Google has no quarrels with a nofollowed link as an ad. It’s when people buy links in articles for a bunch of sites that Google has an issue with. See these people are buying links for SEO benefit, not simply to advertise.

  • Sankaran Sivaramakrishnan

    Google has to change the search results because they will be out of business if they don’t. You cannot search the web for those who pay money.

  • Rick Samara

    Based on this above comment: “To this point, we’ve seen competitors like Yelp complain about Google using their reviews in Google Places in the past. It just so happens that Google made another major announcement this week regarding local search, in that it is shifting to Google+ Page-based local results, which will provide reviews from its own Zagat (acquired last year), and from Google+-based friends.”

    It appears that Google is building it’s own “league” and only allowing certain franchises and teams to play. …and, establishing their own rules!

  • Mike

    This is typical of the mentality of those at Google, while saying we can not use paid links etc, they expect us to do exactly that on Google ad-words, froogle, etc. what are they if they are not paid links ?

    Perhaps the litigators should pick up on this hypocrisy.

  • Matt

    Isn’t google a privately owned company. They don’t “owe” anybody a living… do they? If people don’t like their search engine, then they will go to a different search engine.

    If Wal Mart starts only selling their shirts, then customers will go to Target. It aint the governments job to intervene and make them be fair to all shirt distributors. Google doesn’t have a monopoly… people are free to search where they want to.

    • Neil

      Small businesses should look at Google traffic as a bonus and not rely on it – designing marketing and PR strategies around everything else but Google. Businesses can spend too much time worrying about Google results/rankings etc when the time could be used more productively. Bing is on the up as far as search goes and Facebook ads to name but one are threatening adwords. Nothing last forever – look at MySpace and Friends Reunited!

      • Matt

        I agree completely. If your business fails… it aint Googles fault.

  • brandson

    The recent updates prove they were made for websites and not users. Why did retailmenot come up maybe 3 times for keyword coupon codes in the first 3 pages of google pre-update and now comes up 2 times first page 3 times second and 9 out of 10 times on 3rd page,

    looks like favoritism or manipulation. Also they should not be able to own any webites because they are the only ones besides their favorites who know how to get on first page everytime. GOOGLE IS A MONOPOLY

  • Arindam Biswas

    Google is doing something which is not good for SEO industry but it is really good for users. But as an SEO specialist I always try to learn the new techniques of Google’s algorithm. But I must say that Google should update for a time period and think about small companies otherwise it is really hard to keep the top rank of very good websites too.

    Thanks & Regards!

    Arindam Biswas

    SEO & PPC Expert