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Pressuring Websites to Adopt Google+: The Story Google Didn't Want You to See

Several outlets have reported that Forbes recently removed a story from its website called “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Dies.” But vigilant readers were able to take a screen shot of the article and save reporter Kashmir Hill’s words before they were taken down (mysteriously, they don’t even appear on Google’s cache of material previously online).

Hill details how Google is using its own dominance in search to pressure websites to adopt a Google Plus feature. Hill reports that in a recent meeting with Forbes, Google ad reps delivered a not-so-subtle message, “put a Plus One button on your pages or your search traffic will suffer,” Hill wrote. The Google reps said adding a Google Plus button to websites’ pages would help improve search quality, encourage social sharing and reduce spam. In practice, pages with a Google Plus One button will be ranked higher than those without one, giving web publishers little choice in adding the button if they want their search results to remain relevant on Google, the search engine that controls 65% of searches in the U.S., 90% of searches in most of Europe and 98% of the U.S. mobile search market.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal reported today on growing concerns among antitrust enforcers about Google’s power and how that power is used under the leadership of CEO Larry Page. Jordan Rohan, an analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., was quoted in the article, saying Page “‘has been a pretty quick study’ in communicating with investors. ‘It’s clear that Larry Page isn’t satisfied with Google’s dominant position in Web search and intends to broaden the areas of dominance,’ Mr. Rohan added, even though that is inviting more government scrutiny and ‘bumps in the road.’”

Search engines are a vital part of connecting consumers with businesses and information. It’s clear what’s happening here, if what Hill reported is occurring all over the country. Google’s ad reps are using its dominance in search to muscle Google+ into a better position in the world of social networking.

Now, is that what’s good for Google, or good for its users? That’s a question better left to the antitrust and law enforcement officials at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Attorneys General in Texas, California, New York and Ohio who are investigating Google’s business practices, not to mention the members of the Senate Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Subcommittee, which will hold a hearing on September 21 to explore the impact of Google’s business on consumers and competition.