Friday, September 3, 2010

Texas inquires on our approach to competition

We've always worked hard to ensure that our success is earned the right way -- by building great products, not locking in our users or advertisers. That said, we recognize that as Google grows, we’re going to face more questions about how our business works.

As Search Engine Land first reported, we've recently been approached by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which is conducting an antitrust review of Google. We look forward to answering their questions because we’re confident that Google operates in the best interests of our users.

Occasionally, we’re asked about the “fairness” of our search engine -- why do some websites get higher rankings than others? The important thing to remember is that we built Google to provide the most useful, relevant search results and ads for users. In other words, our focus is on users, not websites. Given that not every website can be at the top of the results, or even appear on the first page of our results, it’s unsurprising that some less relevant, lower quality websites will be unhappy with their ranking.

The Texas Attorney General’s office asked for information about a number of companies whose cases have been well publicized. Here is some background on them:

  • Foundem -- the British price comparison site that is backed by ICOMP, an organization funded largely by Microsoft. They claim that Google’s algorithms demote their site because they are a direct competitor to our search engine. The reality is that we don’t discriminate against competitors. Indeed, companies like Amazon, and Expedia typically rank very high in our results because of the quality of the service they offer users. Various experts have taken a closer look at the quality of Foundem’s website, and New York Law School professor James Grimmelmann concluded, “I want Google to be able to rank them poorly.”
  • SourceTool/TradeComet - SourceTool is a website run by parent company TradeComet, whose private antitrust lawsuit against Google was dismissed by a federal judge earlier this year. The media have noted that TradeComet is represented by longtime Microsoft antitrust attorneys, and independent search experts have called SourceTool a “click arbitrage” site with little original content.
  • myTriggers - Another site represented by Microsoft’s antitrust attorneys, myTriggers alleges that they suffered a drop in traffic because Google reduced their ad quality ratings. But recent filings have revealed that the company’s own servers overheated, explaining their reduced traffic.

We work hard to explain our approach to search and how our ranking works, and we also listen carefully to people’s concerns. We’re looking forward to working cooperatively with the Texas Attorney General’s office, and we strongly believe our business practices reflect our commitment to build great products for the benefit of users everywhere.


Adam said...

The crazy thing is, Google is a private company. No one is forced to search the web using the Google search engine.

Google is not at fault if your site loses traffic because of a perceived lower Google ranking- you are at fault for depending solely on Google for your site traffic.

If you don't like where your site ends up in Google's search results, engineer your site for a search engine that favors you.

Jeffry said...

What Adam said, I agree wholly. An antitrust suit on Google is ridiculous and someone needs to remind the Attorney General of Texas that if people don't like how Google lists them, they're welcome to use another search engine.

I use Google because of the quality of results, something I saw change radically in Yahoo or Microsoft over the years.

APF said...

Obviously, GOOG is a private company. However, the defense, "no one is forced..." to use GOOG, is a wash. "Another search engine is just a click away?"

"Like it or lump it" doesn't promote intelligent discussion of the issues. The issue should be, and is, GOOG's ranking methodology. I would respond to both Adam and Jeffry, if you do not care for criticisms of GOOG's methods, you should not be forced to listen and discuss: don't.

Steve Sailer said...

In these coming antitrust battles, Google would enjoy more public sympathy if it apologized now for Google Maps "misplacing" the Lincoln Memorial the day before the Glenn Beck rally at the Memorial, and explained the steps it was taking to prevent Google employees from abusing Google's power for political purposes in the future:

It shouldn't be hard for Google to come across as more sympathetic than Microsoft(!), but, unfortunately, Bing is emerging with the reputation as less politically biased than Google due to the moronic Lincoln Memorial and various other pranks. All Google would have to do to get its reputation back is to stop covering up its scandals, take public responsibility, and put in place methods to prevent future nonsense.

Will it?

jason said...

Actually, Google is a public company. Their stock is owned by individuals, personal retirement accounts, pensions, etc. Many Americans have a direct interest that Google is running their business properly.

And either way, they have to abide by antitrust laws. When you control so much of the search and ppc advertising markets, we need to be sure that position is maintained legally.

I just want to hear them explain Quality Score to a senate panel...

John said...

With Google slowly attempting to branch into providing content in addition to being a search engine. It is a valid inquiry.

I am a small guy who runs a few sites. I do not have billions of dollar to compete with Google. There would be simply no way for me (or anyone else) to compete with them if they give more exposure to their own offerings.

I would certainly not want Google to start favoring their own content/services over mine if what they are providing is inferior. So I am glad this being looked into.

X-Rusky said...

I would like to see these "shopping comparison" sites that brought the lawsuit to be investigated on how fairly they present shopping sites in their own rankings. This is ridiculous! Google's priority being the customers (users) and not the sites that they rank is exactly the point. Google is not a monopoly either. There is nothing here to investigate

Paul said...

I'm not sure if this is MS trying to cause more trouble as this infers. But having used Foundem's site I can't understand why they are ranked as high as they are, the sight if VERY poor.
IF they are "The UK's "Top" Price Comparison Site", I would hate to see what the other UK sites are like.

For me this looks like a company with with a poor product trying to make some easy money.

John said...

I had posted an earlier comment stating that I felt this was a valid inquiry. Though I still feel that search engines should not be able to prefer their own services/content without any regard for quality.

After actually visiting Foundem's website. Google should be able to ban/block/demote these garbage (made for a quick buck) sites as it pleases.

Stu said...

Just like a shoe store picks and chooses what brand goes at the entrance and which one is in the far back corner, Google is doing NOTHING wrong by not ranking a company's site on the first page of search results, even if they make exceptions in their algorithms to demote lame sites. This is bogus. Government should stay out of free enterprise.

@steveplunkett said...

i've reached out to Greg Abbott and Gov. Perry..

Google's mission is to provide the "most uniquely relevant search results to the user" - nothing else matters..

as a searcher i don't see where having google list these people more prominently than #1 for their name is any benefit.

meshmarketer said...

If Google weren't in the business of automating AdWords expertise and were more transparent in how they use their own tools to produce better results for customers, I think Google would be in the clear.

Let me give you an example of how Google is anti-competitive. If a cab company had the legal and technological capability to have driver-less cabs, then it would be anti-competitive to human cab operators in the same way.

Google runs the machines and they automate a function that in one sense can't be better than the human creativity that an AdWords expert can provide, but they can ONLY be better than a human when it comes to operating Google to produce better results than a human.

They should either make it completely transparent HOW they automate their AdWords to produce better results than a human who writes ads or they should get out of the business of competing against AdWords experts when it comes to automation.

RobertM said...

No, meshmarketer, only those who want to know how to GAME THE SYSTEM want Google to publish how they do things. Make a better site and stop waiting for them to release enough information to game the system.

Jonny O said...

I guess we should also shut down the machines that sort our mail because it is unfair to human mail sorters and scrap all mechanical farm equipment because it unfairly gives an edge over those farmers who can't afford it. We could all work in the fields and then we'd all have jobs. No. Technology liberates us from the tedious work of our past and when it does, we humans are forced to creatively invent something new. Automation is not some kind of evil here.

Barry said...

@meshmarketer -- A cab company that has driver-less cabs has a competitive advantage, but is not 'anti-competitive'. They are competing on the same ground, providing the same service, but doing it internally in such a way that they have an advantage over the other cab companies.

The other cab companies are free to counter with their own driverless cabs, or to offer value-adds, and brand themselves "The cab company that cares enough to give you a real driver," or whatever.

Now, if the driverless cab company was using its cabs to wreck into all the other cab companies and injure their drivers, that would be unfairly leveraging their competitive advantage. THAT is anti-competitive.

Having something your opponent doesn't isn't monopolistic, it's a business strategy.

Paramendra Bhagat said...

Microsoft is not losing to Google in search. Microsoft never really was in the ring in the first place. Microsoft has an Economics major CEO. What can it expect?

Nick said...

-Google makes money from advertising.
-Advertisers use google because lots of people use google due to their good results.

Google makes more money (via advertising) from serving non-altered, relevant results then it would if it doctored the results to list their own stuff first.

They have little financial incentive to game the engine, only to make it better so more people want to use it and more advertisers will pour more money into it.

They have a good thing going, there's no need to get greedy.

Kilz said...


Google doesnt "control" anything. People choose to use it. Just because a large segment of the population chooses to use something does not indicate that there is any control in place.
The search engine is not hard coded into browsers, anyone can change it. There is no monopoly in search, or advertising.
The only monopoly involved seems to be instigating these "investigations" by proxy. Perhaps the attorney general of texas should look into that.

Spidey01 / TerryP said...

I've used Google for nearly six years now, and I have never seen any unfair discrimination in search results or ads. Although I must admit sometimes the advertisements make me laugh out loud.

I can't say the same of some of Google's competition in search; oh how many years I spent shifting through "We paid to be shown here, even if we're not that relevant" search results -- before I switched to Google!

My up most respect belongs to Google, in that they created a search engine that WORKS and tries to help me find what I'm looking for, instead of selling result-space to the highest bidder!

Eric said...

Is it even possible for a free service to become an unfair monopoly?

Google very much is a private company. So while they don't necessarily have the right to use their size to lock out competition (unable to uninstall IE for example) they do have the right to promote their own products first, just as a Ford dealership has the right to show you the new Fords before showing you the used Chevy's.

Don't be a jerk and act like google is a naturally-occurring commodity, or that using it makes you a victim. It's not like Microsoft is taking moral high ground and giving Google increased ranking in the Bing engine.

k4ntico said...

If google can be held liable for the way it ranks sites, what about commercial rating agencies that rank about everything ?

caferace said...

As someone who has provided quality content online for many years, I've watched the SEO gambit taking place over the same span of time.

And to be fair, I understand their woes, to an extent. But as someone who has never optimized my content but remains high in rankings (top of the pops, in several key searches) I still marvel at the whinging that goes on.

It's really a simple formula. Come up with something that works. Don't try and game the system. In a nutshell, don't suck and blame your search results on the engine. Look in the mirror.

auto98uk said...

@Paul - I can assure you it is nowhere near being "The UKs top comparison site" - there are several bigger and more used (and more to the point, better) ones.

ymerej said...

@APF Any good antitrust case would have to consider if google is using unfair practices which include making so you can't use competitors because of their actions. So, to point out that people have real choices, even if the others are not doing a good job, is relevant to the the issue at hand. What was the reasoning for why you wrote?:

""Like it or lump it" doesn't promote intelligent discussion of the issues."

Thanks, J

dheyve said...

I agree that more competition would be a good thing in search but the fact is, that people will continue to favor google because its results are just plain better and more relevant.

I've tried Bing and Yahoo many times recently and they just don't find the stuff I'm looking for.

If Bing or Yahoo were better, people would use it.