FairSearch - for the right result

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What Google Isn’t Saying in "How Search Works"

Last week, Google launched “How Search Works,” an interactive website that explains “the entire life of a search query” on the company’s sites, though scrolling through the site reveals that Google’s site leaves a few important things out of its explanation.

Search Bias

The site describes search results pages that can take a variety of forms, including news, brief website previews, answers, videos, photos.

What Google isn’t saying:

Google owns and operates the overwhelming majority of the highlighted segments in the image above: “News” is actually Google News, the “Images” are Google Images, and the “Videos” are YouTube results.

Google systematically engages in search bias, steering users to its own content and properties ahead of search results even when there may be other sites more relevant than the ones Google displays prominently.

Other Google properties like Google Places, Google Reviews, Google Shopping, Google Maps, and Google+ results or paid ads also take up much of the most valuable real estate on search result pages, often at the expense of other innovative web services. When the most relevant listings are pushed down to less prominent positions because Google automatically promotes its own products, those sites are deprived of traffic and revenue they can reinvest in innovative new products and free or subsidized services.

Fighting Spam

Google’s site also says “we write programs and formulas to deliver the best results possible” and that “if we find spam, we take manual action” to demote inferior pages. Google uses published guidelines for graders to rank sites and suggests that they notify site owners whose webpages are penalized for bad practices and gives them a chance to fix their sites and submit for reconsideration.

What Google isn’t saying:

While few people would argue against demoting and preventing spam content, some small business owners have told a very different version of the story. Frequently, instead of being able to get more information from Google about why their site was demoted, and how to fix it, their inquiries are answered by Google employees suggesting they buy more ads to boost traffic.

For example, Tim Carter, founder of AskTheBuilder.com and former Google witness in Congressional hearings, published original construction and remodeling content on his site but was demoted without any explanation. He lost over 50% of his online traffic and was unable to reach anyone at Google who could explain what changes he needed to make to restore his original position in the search rankings. Similarly, John Pike, founder of GlobalSecurity.org, says his site was demoted from 2nd to 15th place without warning, and his site traffic dropped about 95% as a result. You can watch videos of their stories here: /searchbias.

‘Snippets’

Google says it “shows small previews of information” from other sites.

What Google isn’t saying:

Google was showing those snippets against the express wishes of other sites until several companies, including TripAdvisor, revealed that Google gave them a lose-lose choice: either Google would use their information as it wanted to keep users on Google’s own sites longer, or those competing sites could choose to disappear from Google results altogether.

It took a voluntary agreement from Google ending the FTC’s antitrust investigation of the company’s practices for Google to promise that it would give other websites the ability to opt out of  option of disallowing snippets without the threat of having to remove themselves from all Google search results.

These are just a few examples of the inconsistencies between what Google claims on its site about its presentation of search results and the realities of a series of practices it engages in to steer users to its own properties – so it can sell more advertising and at a higher cost – and away from other sites that might compete to take away its web traffic and market power in search and search advertising.