Wall Street Journal posted an article that describes Google’s apparent preferential treatment of its own content over other major vertical players when it comes to serving search engine results.
Through the years, Google has been developing various tools and products that enhance users’ search experience. In 2005, it developed a maps service whose sophisticated features propelled it to become one of the most popular applications of the search engine giant. In 2009, it introduced Google Local Business Center (later renamed Google Places) which allows business listings associated with its Google Maps service.
While Google thinks this is for improved overall user experience, threatened sites that offer similar content do not share the same idea. They see Google as an emerging competitor out to ultimately wipe them out of the search engine landscape, their main source of valuable traffic. Such scenario illustrates how valuable search engine visibility is to an online business.
The article’s first two paragraphs says:
Google Inc. increasingly is promoting some of its own content over that of rival websites when users perform an online search, prompting competing sites to cry foul.
The Internet giant is displaying links to its own services—such as local-business information or its Google Health service—above the links to other, non-Google content found by its search engine.
For us small potatoes, our websites’ failure to rank well is a common experience. And we often defer to the fact that “we’re not as popular as those titans in the industry”. But what about if these presumed titans now lose their supposed territories on search engine real estate? We’re talking about WebMD, Yelp or Mapquest whose ubiquitous presence on first page results has been a fixture for a long while.
If the trend continues — referring to Google’s planned expansion towards the lucrative travel-search vertical — the number of complaints could potentially increase. This is on top of the antitrust case against Google filed by European regulators for crushing its competition, rather than encourage these smaller players to improve their services.
With Google pushing further on serving local results, a crucial element among the services offered by the affected companies, the cries of foul has become louder. Personally, I don’t care whether Google takes over the space previously occupied by these companies. What matters more is that as a search engine user, I can find the information I am looking for. As fast as possible. In short, it all boils down to user experience. Historically, Google bypassed placing ads on its homepage — unlike its contemporaries which filled front page with banners and link ads — to let users leave as quick as possible.
It did not take a long time for Google to respond:
“We built Google for users, not websites, and our goal is to give users answers,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “Sometimes the most useful answer isn’t ’10 blue links,’ but a map for an address query, or a series of images for a query like ‘pictures of Egyptian pyramids.’ We often provide these results in the form of ‘quick answers’ at the top of the page, because our users want a quick answer.”
WSJ has its example showing Google Maps results lording over links to other organic search results. But it doesn’t mean every search query yields the same type of results. An arbitrary query showed Yelp still appearing on top results. So until we are convinced they are completely removed from first page results (or worse, from the search engine index), I wish these players stop whining and acting like cry babies.