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Should Google Be Able To Prioritize Its Own Content In Search Results?

Don't Users Want Google Results If They're Using Google?

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Does Google have the right to place its own content over others’ content in its search results? If the company deems it better for the user that way, Google certainly thinks so. 

Do you agree with Google? Let us know.

There has been a great deal of discussion around this in the media recently, and a great deal of complaining from other brands who feel this is anti-competitive, and that Google should be driving traffic to their sites, rather than Google giving the user the content themselves. 

A Wall Street Journal piece that ran over the weekend, in particular has raised the debate most recently. Amir Efrati reports:

Google, which is developing more content or specialized-search sites in hopes of boosting ad revenue, says that prominently displaying links to them is more useful to Web searchers than just displaying links to sites that rank highly in its search system. But the moves mean Google increasingly is at odds with websites that rely on the search engine for visitors.

Those companies say their links are being pushed lower on the results page to make room for the Google sites. Critics include executives at travel site TripAdvisor.com, health site WebMD.com and local-business reviews sites Yelp.com and Citysearch.com, among others.

When a major publication like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times raises points that may make Google look bad in the some people’s eyes, the company tends to respond. In this case, Google did just that in a post on its Public Policy blog, citing the WSJ piece specifically. 

"We welcome ongoing dialog with webmasters to help ensure we’re building great products, but at the end of the day, users come first," Google Director of Product Management Carter Maslan wrote in that post. "If we fail our users, competition is just a click away."

It is true that Google largely dominates the search market, but Maslan is also right that competition is a click away – namely Bing, which in many cases does the exact same thing as Google, in terms of delivering instant answers over links to third-party sites – all the more interesting as Microsoft has now joined FairSearch.org, a coalition designed to block Google’s ITA Software acquisition for related reasons. Bing, I might add is not necessarily providing a better user experience when it does this. We recently looked at the shortcomings of its "artist pages" for music searches, for example. That’s not to say that Bing doesn’t do some things well, and it has managed to gain significant ground in the very hard to penetrate search market

SEOs and webmasters have always had to deal with ever-changing Google algorithms as they struggle to stay visible in Google’s search results, and that won’t change as Google continues to deliver its own brand of results in more scenarios (most notably local). Google has always maintained the stance of aiming to deliver a better user experience over a better webmaster experience, even though the company provides many services specifically aimed at helping webmasters optimize and measure their own search engine performance. 

All results delivered by Google, whether they come from Google or third parties have always been based on how Google thinks they should be delivered. It’s their search engine, and users have been pretty content (for the most part) thus far. You don’t get that kind of market share by turning users off. Again, Maslan is right. The competition is a click away, and it’s coming from all angles, from Bing to Facebook to Twitter to many different vertical search engines, as Tim Mayer discussed with us (Amazon, Fandango, and many different niche sites and mobile apps). 

Analyst Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land makes some good points as well:

The notion that Google should be nothing more than a shell or traffic hose is flawed; it’s also a fantasy. Google is a public company looking for growth. It will continue to expand and improve its products in areas where it sees opportunity.

It must be said that Google is also not the only way for companies to get exposure in the market. (emphasis added).

I’d also add that it’s not as if Google is completely changing how they do things and just totally leaving businesses and webmasters out to dry. They tend to provide information and tools on how to utilize their offerings to boost visibility. Just last week, for example, as Google is shifting toward delivering more localized results, the company blogged and released a video talking about how it ranks these results (in simple terms). Obviously they’re not going to completely give away their secret sauce and become more vulnerable to search spam, but they don’t completely leave webmasters in the dark, even though they could. Google has openly discussed ways to optimize for YouTube, guidelines for Google News inclusion, etc. 

Should Google users be forced to take an extra step in going to a third-party site, when Google can easily offer the information itself? Perhaps if the user wanted a result from that third-party site, he/she would have gone to that site. The biggest opponents to Google’s ways haven’t exactly been unknown brands. Perhaps improvements in marketing and user experiences are in order. 

What do you think? Comment here

Should Google Be Able To Prioritize Its Own Content In Search Results?
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  • http://www.sitebyjames.com/ james

    I am going to have to believe that this mission statement is what they are striving for.

    http://www.google.com/corporate/tech.html

    If they eliminate organic search, or start to spike it with paid advertising I think people will leave and go somewhere else. The best part about search is choice and discovery, for me anyways.

    If they start to siphon top search terms to “the best”, so long as they are not immediately affiliated with the “the best” economically, I don’t really see a problem. I am not a lawyer, but if they do start to corrupt their own search, isn’t that an anti-trust issue?

    • http://www.sitebyjames.com/ james

      I do remember people being able to buy placement in the maps local, which is now inserted into the organic, so I guess potentially, they have already started, if they are indeed selling map placements.

      • Chris Crum

        To the best of my knowledge, Google always marks paid results as such.

        • http://www.snerdey.com Snerdey

          Think about it. Paid search is already at the top. Webmasters that keep up with trends, changes and website updating are rewarded with better results then those that do not. They own it, control it.

  • http://str82u.co/ STR82U

    If Google starts showing results for it’s own properties over websites that rank higher, the results, ALL RESULTS, would be suspect from then on.

    If they can place their properties over others without achieving the position organically, the next step is to do it for others and by the time the public finds out, they would probably not care. “It didn’t look different”

    That would probably open the door to a good shock campaign for a new search competitor that could tout “Honest Search Results”

    Keep it Str8!

  • You Know Me

    Conflict of interest, big time. We pay you and you also compete with us. Really?

    See you in hell, Google!

  • StephenKHunt

    I just have to (want to, at least) believe that in the age of consumers being able to get exactly what they want, when they want it, is going to continue to drive and decided who and where the Web Heavyweights are, and not marketing. You know, as a search engine, Yahoo! used to have more market share than Google, but the plan they’ve (Yahoo!) followed has kept Google in first place (as a search engine). If Google decides to continue to promote and give precedence to its own web services, rather than to be an interface the competing sites that PAY Google for top-hit placements, Google better be totally confident they provide the best user experience possible. If they are (providing the best user experience), then good for Google, the rest of us should continue to strive to beat them. If Google is NOT providing the best user experience with its web services, then, just as we have seen with other sites, Google will dethroned as king.

  • http://motelwebsitedesign.com.au Mark Oliver

    I’ve noticed that as I write articles on my blog about Google Places, Tags, Maps and other areas of interest for marketing that Google is replacing the old list style ads with picture ads. A picture ad means that only 1 advertiser gets seen.

    Picture Ads vs the old style of lists – that’s probably fine, but mostly these ads are for Google Products. Does that mean that there were no competitive bidders, or that Google is outbidding competitors?

    My goal is to give good information to visitors, and to get clicks on ads to make some extra money off the work done. It would disappointment to learn that Google Ads are taking space on my website using an unfair advantage. It would disappoint me more to learn that Google Ads pays me less than competitive bid ads.

    Is that just paranoid? Maybe no one is bidding for my topics and I’m lucky to have anything display.

  • http://www.uscooler.com/ Walk-in

    They are a private company. They have the right to do whatever they feel is best for the company without outside influence. I have been negatively affected several times by google adding to the standard 10 links… but you just deal with it and move on.

    • Guest

      they are a public company

  • Joseph

    Is there any LAW whereby webmasters can prohibit Google or any of it’s subsidiaries from listing their sites on any of their products WHATSOEVER?

    Why do we allow this Orwellian macabre monster to exist? From snooping inbound and outbound emails of their GMAIL accounts and then sending spam to people based on the key words compiled, to claiming they accidentally Slurped inbound and outbound WIFI networks in neighborhoods while mapping networks in Canada, to their spy cams, to their unfair delivery in their search results of the websites they WANT you to see… are we all nuts? Read the 40 yr resume of their new CEO in the early 2000′s of past involvement with spy organizations, every privacy invasion or Orwellian agency you can think of.

    It’s high time the public, and especially webmasters all over the world shut this demon down lets’ get legislation PROHIBITING Google from indexing our sites WITHOUT our permission.

    Wayne

  • http://docsheldon.com Doc Sheldon

    I’m really getting tired of listening to people whine about how Google is showing their own results above others. In the first place, I’ve seen NO compelling evidence – make that no evidence at ALL – that this is happening, without total justification. Google isn’t populated by fools, people. They fully realize that doing that would open them up to all sorts of flack. Don’t you think they have amassed plenty of algorithmic evidence as to WHY a Google snippet appeared above one from someone else?

    I think Lisa Barone put it extremely clearly in her post yesterday: http://outspokenmedia.com/online-marketing/google-doesnt-love-you/ They owe you NOTHING!

    And for those that complain that they feel Google has set themselves up on a competitive pedestal against you… if that’s true, what was going through your mind to buy advertising from a competitor? ;)

    • Guest

      “Google isn’t populated by fools, people. They fully realize that doing that would open them up to all sorts of flack. Don’t you think they have amassed plenty of algorithmic evidence as to WHY a Google snippet appeared above one from someone else?”

      Oh really? Like the Wi-Fi deal. Like the Buzz deal? Like the pervert spying on little girls. Think before you write man. Regarding the “compelling evidence”, open your eyes or educate yourself on the matter.

  • http://liveminder.techdex.net Dexter Nelson

    From what I can see the whole ‘tiff’ is about certain companies upset that they have to work just a little bit harder to get higher rankings, and effectively want Google to not promote and brand their content over theirs.

    That’s like asking the Wall Street Journal or another major publication to start posting articles from other newspapers on the front page, or asking you, if you have a content-based website to put content from others above your own content.

    Word of mouth is the #1 most reliable and highest converting form of advertisement, bar none. It doesn’t matter how much traffic you get from search engines if when a person gets there, they leave.

    I agree with Doc Sheldon… Stop whining! Moreover, get your elbows greasy and get into the fray. Search engines aren’t the only source of traffic, and personally I believe that if the majority of your traffic comes from search engines, then you have a serious flaw in your marketing strategy.

    If no one remembers your site to begin with… what’s the point? If you are one of those people, then you need to make some changes. All of my sites receive less than 30% of their traffic from search engines, which means the rest either click on a link, type it in a browser or have my sites bookmarked.

    Dexter

  • Guest

    I use PPC and Adwords on Google, I pay for them and it is not cheap, does Google pay for their own ads? If I am paying for ranking I don

    • Guest

      Its there website – they can do whatever they like with it.
      For example, if Google were to become exclusively an online retailer of socks and nothing else, then that is their business (and it is THEIR business remember?).
      If you don’t like it – go somewhere else, which funnily enough is exactly what Googles official message is. Sounds fair to me!

  • http://www.Electric-Reviews.org Mark Demers

    In my view Google should treat their sites as they do every ones site however they have a lot easier time doing SEO than anyone else. This is still a tough question, but i think content should be key in search results not just Google saying hey look at me first.This seems quite unfair if this is happening. Like you say competition is one click away.

    One more thing Google should have to get links from other relative sites for their sites to rank well but no links coming from any of Google` sites themselves- they should have to follow a higher standard than the rest of us and just because they run the search is another reason they should have higher standards to follow.

    It seems like they can do what they want and the rest of us better do what they say or else.Funny thing is Google never says much on the very best ways to do things and they sure will not tell you what algorithms they use – but they are allowed to cheat the rest of us by skipping this step .

    I wonder which of Googles sites are doing well on Bing?

    • Guest

      That’s why G. needs to be broken apart into different companies. I’m referring to the part you said their own sites should be judged the same way that other websites are and them having the upper, easier hand because they know what works and what doesn’t as far as ranking. So that’s why they need to be split. Google search company should not have anything to do with anything other than search. I’m sure that’s what the Justice Department will try to push for and it will be the right thing to do.

  • Guest Andy

    We though that Google is our friend :(

  • http://www.morganmoran.com Morgan

    This argument seems to be as old as Google itself. At the end of the day, Google is a website just like any other website. It happens to be used by many others for finding and promoting other websites, but at the end of the day, it is Google’s website and they have the “right” to do whatever they want to on their website (within legal parameters of course). So, the question of them having the “right” to show your content below or above theirs, or at all for that matter, is absurd.

    The real question to ask is whether or not Google will dilute the integrity of their search results by doing so and ultimately lose ground in the search/ad revenue game to others that don’t.

  • http://web.mac.com/klmalone/Alaska_Honey_Bee/Alaska_Honey_Bee.html klm

    I use http://startpage.com to search because they maintain your privacy and Google does not, so it matters not to me if Google prioritizes there sites or not. If people used intelligence they would not use Google anyway.

    • Guest

      Google gets you the results – thousands of them. No other search engine gets you results and integrates them the way Google does. I quite like Bing, but unfortunately I don’t use it very much, because I have found it simply doesn’t get me the results . I always have to check again on Google anyway, so I end up using it almost exclusively.

      If privacy is your concern, then the intelligent thing to do is not use the internet at all, because anything outside of an SSL connection does not guarantee privacy.

  • Guest

    I do not like Google results and especially their shopping engine, their local results everyting they do manually this is against the core idea behind Google and organising world information.

    Let’s take a little example: I am an online searcher looking for shoes online and Google is displaying local results. 95% of the online serchers will look for an online shop not for a local shop and so relavancy has been sacrified which Google promised not to.

    Alos it seems that Google is no longer fighting spam when it comes to shopping terms I mean paid links like paid blog posts and other are ruling. No one bothers to discount them.

  • http://www.mareebafirstnational.com Peter Carabot

    I run a Real Estate Agency in Australia, the property owner that pays me for advertising “HIS” property gets an add in the local rag, on websites and on my window. All the ones that want mega bucks for the shack, don’t want to fork out for advertising and have un-saleable properties get left out. I’m not a Charity, a bank or a Government Department. I do not perform a “service to the Community” I’m a private business and a “FOR profit Organisation” If I don’t make a profit, somehow, I cannot eat or employ people.

    To Real Estate Agent substitute Google, to property owner substitute WebSite Owner.
    A search engine is nothing more then a publication full of advertisements.

    Google Yahoo and all the rest don’t do it for pleasure but for dollars and cents. Rather insulting and demeaning that The WALL ST Journal (Greedy Corporate) raises such issues. Will they publish my adverts if I don’t pay them? NO! End of argument
    Have a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

  • http://www.demotywatorysmieszne.pl Demotywatory

    It’s obvious that Google shouldn’t use it’s dominating position on the market – it’s just “evil” and big G credo is “Don’t be evil”.

  • http://www.traveleview.com Susomoy Sinha

    As seeing the nature of the business of Google, it

  • http://www.uniquelyhorse.com Brian Whiteman

    Google got to be Google by searching for the websites the rest of us worked so hard to develope and optimize to their standards. Prioritizing to greater standards is one thing, but being able to decide who’s site is better for a searcher fringes on (In this case -I think) ainti trust laws. – Who the ‘”/?;>; is Google to decide which site has the best “value” to the customer?? – It’s just another way for them to monopolize (and monitize) on their position.

    Isn’t it a conflict of interest for Google to be able to even develope websites that compete in their own game?? Let Google jump thru the same hoops as the rest of us who’s sites have been around a whole lot longer. (Is Google a Search Engine or a Web Site developer?) – Sure they can play both games, but both games can’t be played on the same field.

    Play Fair Google!!

  • http://coinsandmoreonline.com Antiques

    It’s Google’s website. How would you feel if someone told you how to run your own site? Should you be forced to display ads for your competition? That would be fair after all, to make sure the customer is getting the best price.

    In the end, the market will decide. If the consumer’s don’t like it, they’ll address the problem and go somewhere else. As some have pointed out, it’s happened to others before Google, and they helped in the demise of some of them. If they get too far away from what user’s want, they’ll find their precious search volume share going down even faster.

  • http://morganservice.net Don Morgan

    No

  • http://www.searchen.com John Colascione

    I operate a site that has been directly impacted by these local listings and have seen changes both positive (when they don’t work well or there isn’t a lot of them) and negative (when the whole page seems filled with local listings) from this and have discussed it with my colleagues at great length several times over the last year or more since we started speculating where Google Local was probably going with this. When maps listings just started to appear….. Although this may effect some of us adversely (and it could get worse), at the end of the day it’s Google’s search engine, and they can list, show, and display whatever they decide – based on user experience, or even just to brand and promote their own stuff and make more money…. It’s entirely up to them… It’s their search engine…. It’s their traffic which they have build from years and years of incredible decision making…. All they have done is become absolutely excellent at what they do, that’s why they enjoy so much of the search market share…. It’s up to us, web site owners and operators to adapt to any changes, as necessary… To succeed online you must be able to adapt. That is the way it is, at least in my opinion. Make something really really good, and you’ll see, some will still complain about it. Maybe it will be too good and some will find a way to say, hey this is no good anymore. If they do something wrong, then their market share will suffer, and users will be the judge by going somewhere else, and Google knows this, but I doubt that’s what is going to happen here.

    • Guest

      Genius, that’s how the world tries to work over there in your country. There are these things called “laws” over here so things don’t get out of hand. This is the US where there are anti-trust laws for a reason. This “It’s their business and they can do whatever they want” argument is very amateurish and old. Google holds the majority of the search market and should not prioritize their content. They can bring the world down to its knees if you let them.

  • Zeth

    No, they shouldn’t prioritize their content over others. It would be fine if they were Yahoo or Bing but they are NOT. The own web search. The majority of searches are done thru them. It would be abuse of search monopoly, which they have done left and right. Google is in BIG BIG BIG trouble. A 5 year old can win an antitrust lawsuit against them in court by just telling the judge, “go ahead, just do a Google search and knock yourself out”. There is so much evidence against them it is just too overwhelming. The Justice Department for once will have an easy to win case. I’d say break Google into so many little pieces they would need a microscope to find themselves out! The abuse has got to stop! Thousands of business are going bankrupt everyday thanks to them. Adwords at the top of the listings have to go too. That’s anti-competitive!

  • Guest

    You know, I read the statements above made by Google and I ask myself, who is this stupid person at Google that is saying all this out of this world, suicidal crap? Saying the statements below is the equivalent of saying, “We rob mansions in Hollywood to give to the poor. there is nothing wrong with what we are doing”. I mean, I’m just shocked people who are supposed to be so smart are so braindead at the same time!

    “We welcome ongoing dialog with webmasters to help ensure we’re building great products, but at the end of the day, users come first,” Google Director of Product Management Carter Maslan wrote in that post. “If we fail our users, competition is just a click away.”

    “Google, which is developing more content or specialized-search sites in hopes of boosting ad revenue, says that prominently displaying links to them is more useful to Web searchers than just displaying links to sites that rank highly in its search system. But the moves mean Google increasingly is at odds with websites that rely on the search engine for visitors. ”

    A search engine being a click away is irrelevant. This is not a case about competition between search engines but between Google and businesses, webmasters. A case about Google abusing their search monopoly power to kill other smaller companies, not other search engines. Webmasters can not just get business by going “a click away” as barely anybody use those search engines. The deal is that Google is the gateway to the world and should act more responsibly.

  • http://rogerdouglass.com Roger D

    < $.02>

    They are NOT a government agency and so do not have to “play fair” in terms of who gets to be on the front page.

    How would you webmasters like it if someone or some “public service” group said you had to put certain things on YOUR first page because it was fair to do it? I know I wouldn’t like it at all.

    Google is a “for profit” company and NOT a government agency or some public utility.

    And they are NOT a monopoly as some might think or say. There is another choice. Microsoft answered that one for us with it’s IE anti-trust issue.

    If you really want to change Google, you’ll have to change the millions / billions of users out there that has it as their default search. THAT is how people can change Google.

    And they WILL change. They’ll change or die. That’s what all companies do – they either change as their customers demand or they just shrivel up and go away.

    I do think that Google is now answering more to their stockholders than to their users but that’s just IMO.

    So to change that what they do, you just need to get a few hundred million people to switch to Bing or Yahoo or whatever. That should be pretty easy, huh?

    Its just business – plain and simple. And if folks don’t see that point then they are missing something big in this whole issue.

    • http://rogerdouglass.com Roger D

      And for those of you that insist that Google is a monopoly…

      “Monopoly” is a term from economics that refers to a situation where only a single company is providing an irreplaceable good or service. Because the firm in question is the only place where the good or service can be found, they have the ability to charge whatever they want, to the detriment of market competition that is the foundation of a healthy economy. Such a company is said to be monopolizing a portion of the market.”

      Google is not a single company providing an irrepaceable service – there are many others out there.

      • Guest

        You don’t understand what a monopoly is or what Google is doing obviously. Your comment is just too out of this world to respond more than 2 lines. Educate yourself in this matter and then give your opinion. What you posted is just Tupperware party Jakie left her husband crap sorry. I can’t fight you if you have no bullet to shoot with. Google has a monopoly on search. That in itself is not illegal but the abuse of that status is.

        • http://rogerdouglass.com Roger D

          Actually I understand quite well what a monopoly is and no, Google does not have a monopoly on web search.

          And I am quite in tune to what Google is doing having worked in the SEO field for over 12 years.

          A lot of people call it a monopoly just because they have such a huge market share compared to others. But no, they are not a monopoly just because some people say (very loudly) that they are a monopoly.

          So what specific characteristics does Google have that makes it a monopoly? Perhaps you could enlighten and educate me?

          Is it because most Internet users begin their searches there?

          Is it because they make a lot of money?

          Is it because they are #1?

          Is it because they piss off a whole bunch of webmasters or SEO pros?

          None of that makes a monopoly.

          And I did post some evidence as to why it is not a monopoly yet you just said I as wrong with you providing zero evidence.

          Rather silly and empty IMO. Not looking for a fight where you say “I can’t fight you if you have no bullet to shoot with”. But if you say Google is a monopoly, enough of the empty opinions and post some real evidence.

          Or perhaps “Guest” is not your real name but rather “troll”.

          • Guest

            Again, get some course in business and economics so you understand what monopolies are. Monopoly’s meaning is way broader and complicated than your newly found, basic Wikipedia definition. Google has a monopoly on search and web advertising. Just because there are some competitors, that doesn’t prevent a company from reaching a monopoly status. When IE deal there was Netscape and other useless browsers. MS just couldn’t do whatever it wanted IE and was stopped from doing it. Educate yourself on the matter. SEO experience for 12 years means nothing sorry my friend. :-)

          • http://www.bigears.net.au Big Pallet Shop

            is that a monopoly is when you control a certain percentage of the supply of a specific product or sevice. This is why certain companies cannot buy out or merge with other companies due to their market share.

          • http://www.bigears.net.au Big Pallet Shop

            Do you think it would be allowed if Google merged or bought out Yahoo or Bing? The question is;

            If you naturally grow without taking over competitors and you hold the majority market share of over 85% are you a monopoly? Where if you took over a competitor to reach that market share you would be stopped as trying to monopolise the market.

  • Ray Cruz

    yeah thats possible google is a very big SEO and it is give priorities to own results.
    http://zetaclearsite.net/

    • http://www.bigears.net.au Big Pallet Shop

      You are right that Google does SEO and as an example they SEO’d there maps to come up in listings.

      Google needs company listings to reach the top. These are relevant outbound links. My landing pages in a lot of areas still maintain positioning above the maps.

      Two ways to look at this;

      1) Google has not manually gone into these specific key-phrases to tweak their maps to take top positioning yet.

      or, as I would like to believe

      2) Google is on the same playing field as all of us as they don’t even know 100% how their own algorithms work. They just have a multi billion dollar team and more resources and intel than most.

      We also need to remember that Google is a Directory even though we view it as a Search Engine. Because Google is a Directory they can place links wherever they want.

      When a platform includes contact details on their search pages they have then become a fully fledged directory (In my opinion). I still don’t understand why they would do that because they could never measure the value. No clicks on page wont necessarilly mean that someone phoned one of the numbers displayed. Maybe they have something else planned…

  • http://www.coolfunnytshirts.net coolfunnytshirts.net

    thats a good observation but i think the search results do not bias google’s own pages heavily.

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