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.