Do you think Google uses its algorithm to self-promote? Was the FTC wrong in its anti-trust investigation?
Google emerged victorious in the FTC investigation into whether its business practices violate antitrust laws. Some companies -particularly members of the fair search coalition – were extremely disappointed in the outcome, stating that allowing Google to continue to function in the same facet only helps it to self-promote its own web properties above other businesses. Others – primarily competing search engines – believe the FTC was justified in permitting Google to continue.
The controversy steams from the belief that if Google is able to choose which companies are ranked in their search engine and which companies are not, it’s actually a manipulation of results and not an organic return of companies. Search engines were established to provide results based on a searched query, so users could obtain information quickly and easily. If Google can manipulate the results, are users actually getting all the results in order to choose the right company?
Though their algorithm is highly speculated upon, Google has not come out-right with its parameters. Some companies believe that Google should have a transparent process outlining how its results influence and affect consumers. By implementing transparent practices, some believe Google will be kept in check, and therefore prohibited to “construe” the results for its own benefit.
The argument is that Google’s algorithm weeds out websites that don’t benefit users, and returns optimal search queries. Lawmakers don’t need to determine how a company develops said algorithm….right?
How does this decision influence SMBs? Arguably, permitting Google to choose which searches it returns gives them free reign. One fear is that Google may block companies from results pages and, subsequently launch competing services of its own. And, this fear may not be too far off the mark: ShopCity.com, a site which helps local businesses create online storefronts, was abruptly dropped from Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) one day. When its CEO asked Google to explain the drop, Google advised ShopCity to improve the quality of its website. Coincidentally, Google soon thereafter launched Place for Business, a service shockingly similar to ShopCity.
Google’s competitors like Bing, Blekko and DuckDuckGo, surprisingly believe that while Google populates SERPs according to its algorithm updates, search engines are also partly curated by users. Search engines were established to provide results to users based on the searched term. The idea was that search engines, similar to the concept of yellow pages, would give people the most relevant information. And while in theory search engines still do this, there is the looming question of how reliable the algorithms are – we know the algorithms judge websites based on quality, but how much of the algorithm weeds out websites Google doesn’t want returned on the SERP?
Competitors argue that while a company may receive Google traffic one day, it may not the very next. Furthermore, your company may not deserve that traffic in the first place. One thing is certain: the term Google has become synonymous with online search. Consider how frequently you hear the phrase, “I Googled it….”
Should businesses be afraid of the direction in which Google is headed? Does Google have too much freedom with how it returns results, thus creating biased pages? Or does the user still maintain all of the power in this situation?
Here’s what you can do: