Google Should Stick To Its Search Principles

    March 24, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

Please welcome Google to the damned-if-I-do-damned-if-don’t club. The superiority of search results is what led to Google’s dominance, and investors have pressured the company to get back to its core competency while raising revenue. As soon as they do, though, retailers pitch a fit because things become too fair.

Tell Amazon to shove it

At the heart of this latest controversy is an option that has been there all along being made more readily available: The ability to search within a site. Google brought this option to the forefront by adding a second search box within results for site-specific searches. Alongside the results found within those specific sites are sponsored results, often for retail competitors.

And the retail world pitched a royal hissy fit, fearful of having searchers detoured to competitor sites. Amazon made enough of a stink that Google acquiesced, removing the second search box instead of standing on its serving the end-user principles.

That begs the question: Can any retailer, or just mammoths like Amazon, dictate to Google what can appear in its search results? And there you have the second, larger heart of the issue. Google wasn’t willing to compromise about paid links, a tactic more commonly used by smaller retailers and/or publishers to game the search results and get traffic. It was a matter of principle then, Google said, our search results are for the end-user, not for the sellers.

But Amazon complains and things are different?

Well, while Amazon and other big retailers are complaining that there might be some competition in the search results, let’s examine what’s really going on.

Telling Google What Google Can Do With Google

Would you let some other company, with an obvious stake in the outcome, tell you what to do with your website? I would hope not. Google has every right, de facto monopoly or not, to do what it will with its site, so long as aggregating information on the web is legal, and has every right to place ads alongside that information. That’s the business model.

The additional search ads serve a dual purpose for Google, of course: Increase opportunities for clicks while reminding searchers why they loved Google in the first place. But Google isn’t changing what’s on the destination sites, themselves, just the information that appears on Google’s own site. It’s sad they let Amazon tell them what to do. Would Amazon change its search deal with Microsoft to make Google happy? Not without some cash, I’d imagine.

Okay, could retailers tell a billboard owner what he can’t put on his billboard? Perhaps if there’s a contract. Are they allowed to limit the potential competition broadcasters can broadcast? Again, with an exclusivity deal, perhaps, but not without some kind of monetary exchange.  

Fighting Just To Be Fighting

Business is ugly. Fighting is a necessary part of the game. Company’s fight for deals, for exposure, for advantages in the market and with the government. They fight against trademark dilution and copyright infringement, against anything they feel could potentially damage their place in the market. It’s not about right and wrong. It’s about winning, an amoral enterprise that slips to the dark side of the line from time to time to achieve a specific end-goal. Retailers, especially the large ones, are upset that Google makes it easier to find competition and are busy crying about it. Google shouldn’t give in. Competition is good for the market and good for the end user, and ultimately:

Competition Is Good for Small Businesses

So you sell TVs, but nobody’s ever heard of your store, not because you’re not a great retailer, but because you just got started. You’re finding it hard to compete with BestBuy, though, because many consumers type in BestBuy directly, instead of a specific keyword you’ve targeted, even if you’ve targeted "BestBuy." No way you can outbid them on their own brand name, right? And probably, in that extremely competitive arena, you can’t outbid Circuit City for more generic keywords.

Ads on Google’s search within the site feature gives you a second opportunity to pull those would-be BestBuy shoppers away from BestBuy. BestBuy might respond with lowering prices farther than you can, as often happens with big retailers, but the market is ultimately served better and Best Buy can’t leverage its dominant brand as well. At least the smaller retailer has a better chance at competing.

This is especially important during a time of search ad inflation. Google is selling less ad real estate at higher cost-per-click. That automatically gives big retailers with bigger budgets an advantage. Let’s not forget also that even in organic results, there is potentially less competition as the larger companies sometimes buy up the sites that already rank well for specific keywords, a luxury smaller sites likely won’t have.

But competitor ads on searches within a site could help balance things out, especially as large, essential ebusiness sites get larger, more dominant, and more beholden to shareholders demanding them to leverage their positions with ever more acuity. EBay did this recently by nickel-and-diming sellers to near death with newly imposed fees at every stage. Now Google’s doing it via search ad inflation. Small businesses are being better-dealed every time a new venture reaches critical, dominant mass.

At least competitor ads could add some balance to the force as it becomes increasingly difficult for small businesses to get noticed in a sea of Internet behemoths.

Sorry for mixing my metaphors.

The point is: Giving in to angry giant retailers like Amazon lets everybody down because they don’t show the same courtesy to small retailers. Damned if Google gives in, damned if it doesn’t, but if the do-no-evil philosophy is a real one, they’ll stick to their guns.

Sorry again for mixing my metaphors.