Friday, June 8, 2012

Setting the record straight: competition in search



Search is about helping people find the right answers to their questions when and where they need them. We work hard every day to figure out the most useful results for our users, and we’re working to create new and better ways to answer your questions. We know that if we don’t give users the best results, people can and will switch to another search engine.

And while we’re always happy to have feedback about how we can improve, it’s more useful if that feedback is based on facts. In today’s Wall Street Journal, the CEO of comparison shopping site Nextag makes several claims that are wrong -- or suggests that Google start doing things that we already do. Let me set the record straight:

Claim: “Most people believe that when they type "convection microwave oven" or "biking shorts" into Google, they will receive a list of the most relevant sites. Not true. That's how Google used to work. Now, when someone searches for these items, the most prominent results are displayed because companies paid Google for that privilege.”
Fact: Let me be very clear: our unpaid, natural search results are never influenced by payment. Our algorithms rank results based only on what the most relevant answers are for users -- which might be a direct answer or a competitor’s website. Our ads and commercial experiences are clearly labeled and distinct from the unpaid results, and we recently announced new improvements to labeling of shopping results. This is in contrast to most comparison shopping sites, which receive payment from merchants but often don’t clearly label search results as being influenced by payment.

Claim: “It's easy to see when Google makes changes to its algorithms that effectively punish its competitors, including us.”
Fact: As we’ve said many times before, we built search to help users, not websites. We don’t make changes to our algorithms to hurt competitors. We make more than 500 changes a year (each one scientifically evaluated) in order to deliver the most useful results for our users - and we now publish a monthly list of algorithm improvements. Every one of those changes moves some websites up and some sites down in the rankings, but the most important thing is that users are happy with the results.

Claim: “[Google] has used its position to bend the rules to help maintain its online supremacy, including the use of sophisticated algorithms weighted in favor of its own products and services at the expense of search results that are truly most relevant.”
Fact: Our algorithms are always designed to give users the most relevant results -- and sometimes the best result isn’t a website, but a map, a weather forecast, a fact, a quick answer, or specialized image, shopping, flight, or movie results. And that’s not just Google; Bing, Yahoo and other search engines do the same thing.

Claim: “Google should provide consumers with access to the unbiased search results it was once known for—regardless of which company or organization owns the service. It should also allow users to reduce the number of ads shown or incorporate a user's preferred services in search results.
Fact: All major search engines -- including Bing and Yahoo -- long ago evolved beyond the simple “ten blue links,” and we believe that our users are often best served by providing better answers directly in search results. And if users don’t like our results, they can try Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, or even Google Minus Google.

Claim: “Google should grant all companies equal access to advertising opportunities regardless of whether they are considered a competitor.”
Fact: We don’t prohibit competitors from advertising on Google -- in fact, many of our largest advertisers are also competitors. Our auction-based advertising system, which takes into account relevance and bids, is designed to provide a level playing field on which placement is not automatically awarded to the highest bidder.

Claim: “In addition, Google often uses its prime real estate to promote its own (often less relevant and inferior) products and services...”
Fact: It’s understandable that every website believes that it is the best, and wants to rank at the top of Google results. The great thing about the openness of the Internet is that if users don’t find our results relevant and useful, they can easily navigate to Nextag, Amazon, Yelp, Bing or any other website. 

There has never been as much choice online as there is today. Over the last few years, we’ve faced competition from new players, including social networks, mobile apps, and specialty search sites. All that competition is a great thing for consumers, it gives you more choices and makes us work hard to deliver you even more relevant answers, day after day.

34 comments:

~ Vertigo ~ said...

But first doing the Panda update which along with "link farms" definitely hurt most of the Comparison Shopping Engines also and now releasing Google Shopping with paid only links definitely looks like it is taking away business from CSEs, its not a level playing field anymore!

Asa Dotzler said...

So, this could basically be summed up as "Google will do what ever it likes because Bing exists."

John Davis said...

Good for you Google. Don't stand for this sort of slander

christophermx4 said...

It's about time Google set the record straight. Google Search just doesn't bring you links. Google Search answers your question, making Search an even more powerful tool.

Chancy said...

About time Google hit back at the lamestream media.

Anil Jadhav said...

This is why i prefer Google when it comes to Search. They are always the best.

Yano said...

His claims could easily be paraphrased as: ‘I’d like our site to be featured high on Google regardless to merit, and I’ll generalise my absurd claims as to try and hide how convoluted my demands are’.

I think Google should ignore these clearly baiting and “trollish” claims - even if they were published on the WSJ - and for once and for all establish that no one has any right to get indexed by Google let alone any claim on being featured in the search results, and refuse any restriction on the evolution and improvement of Google search especially to aid these falsely entitles “competitors”.

APF said...

As usual, "Another SE is just a ckick away". I.e., "Like it or lump it."

Nick said...

This false nostalgia about Google used to be better has got to stop. Today's Google is better than it has ever been.

Nathan Subramani said...

I think with more products and services google starts to roll out, it is directly competing with revenue streams of other companies/sites - and search being so ubiquitous, its neutrality and intent is always questioned.

StatiK EffecK said...

Google often uses its prime real estate to promote its own (often less relevant and inferior) products and services

Wow wow wow Read that again. Complaining about how Google uses space on its own domain name. God forbid they be allowed to control their own website. Like they said, Google does not force anyone to visit Google.com! It's amazing how fair & open Google is given their popularity -- in fact the main reason for their popularity is their open, fair, and highly desired results.

Get it through your head NextTag -- you might not be happy with your position on Google, but it is influenced by whether users want to go there! Focus on making your product better, not complaining about what someone else does on their own website.

Jason Morris said...

Why does everyone else think they kniwbhiw Google search should be operated? If those people truly have the best solution they start their own search engine or apply it to the they already own. Its sad to see the greatest nation in the world reduced to whining children and sore losers.

Graham Stanton said...

Google does not allow competitors to advertise in all units. In particular, CSEs are forbidden from participating in product ads.

It potentially could be argued that this decision is for the user, but Google should at least acknowledge the issue. It's disingenuous to claim that Jeffrey Katz is misinformed on this one.

Google also has not made the claim that showing shopping links for shopping terms is made as a pro-user unbiased algorithmic decision. Arguing that the organic blue links are not influenced by economics is beside the point and sneaky misdirection, assuming that the shopping links are promoted over those blue links in order to drive Google revenue.

I'm actually on Google's side in this debate. But I do find it frustrating that they can't come out and talk to Google's users as the intelligent adults we are.

Brian Ward said...

Google Search is a service that provides an opinion of Internet destination relevance. If people thought their opinion was too tainted, they would go elsewhere.

Google Search is not a tangible product where they have cornered the market to where people do not have the option of going elsewhere. If browsers across the world only allowed Google Search, then there would be an argument.

Say it with me naysayers. Google is providing an opinion.

The only market Google has cornered is having a darn fine opinion that most everyone wants. When Google's results are bad I go over to Bing... where they tend to be worse - so I come back.

Chris Keller said...

What an idiot. I can't believe that WSJ let the CEO of a company write slander against their competition in their paper. I have lot respect for their 'journalism.'

Graham Stanton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim said...

I've had sites hurt by recent updates and Google is on my s#!t list these days but I would stand with the big G in defense against some of the preposterous statements in the article. The one that I found particularly grievous was when he said that results have changed to favor certain commercial interests ("Not so anymore," he writes at one point). Google has always had ads (okay, since 2002 or thereabouts) and Google has never provided much favor to commercial sites in its organic listings. It's a badly written piece that I'm surprised was published by such a respected publication and I'm also surprised you took time out of your busy life to deal with this, Amit. It's too bad... you could have spent that time further tweaking the algorithm instead.

V said...

As google expands its product offering it will encroach into other segments. This is very much like Microsoft(google) bundling IE(google placement vs competitors) in Windows(Google search results) and killing Netscape ( small guys like Nextag) .
It will appear as monopolistic,whether they like it or not

Derek Ross said...

A company wants to promote their products? BLASPHEMY!

A company provides a service for the users, not competitors? OUTRAGEOUS!



Users reading this that don't like Google: You don't have to use this service. It is a SERVICE. Not a requirement.

Seat10B said...

I am too am glad that Google did set the record straight. How WSJ could let this CEO make such untrue and ill-informed claims is beyond me.

But, IMO, the user experience is everything. I don't know about you but try looking for say a Sony Nex-5f on Google or nextag.com. Nextag.com interface though similar to Google's is plain annoying with the constant movement of the banner adds and ajax reloads.

Google's approach is clean, easy to read and less intrusive on one peripheral vision when looking at the page.

When looking at nextag.com I feel like I am driving in a cab in Las Vegas.

Instead of trying to disseminate blatant untruths, this CEO should focus on making a better user experience on his site instead of making every white space area a revenue source.

Simply put Google SERPS for pricing comparison is a better resource than Nextag

Time to stop bitching and get to work!!!!

Alexander said...

But vertigo, I, and pretty much any user I know, don't WANT CSE's when searching in google. If I do, i'll add, comparison prices to my search, and I'll get them.

Grant Alan Friedline said...

I almost fell of my chair when I read "Google is for users, not for websites". WRONG. Let me make this perfectly clear. The webmasters of the world make Google great. Without our great content you are nothing. We could easily block the Google crawler in robots.txt and let the competitors in (except for maybe our home pages let's not get too rash). Then suddenly Google's competitors have the best content exclusively. So there you go. It's not a monopoly. The webmasters decide if Google is allowed to index our content or not. If we keep getting attacked, maybe it's not in our best interest to let you index us anymore.

t0dbld said...

@ Grant LOL, Yeah and don't count on being a "webmaster" much longer when no one cant find your site because you blocked it from Google. Your argument is so ridiculous I had to take time out of my day to let you know. What a brain storm you had... If their was no content or internet than Google would not exist, wow deep thinking like that surely has helped you obtain an impressive medal collection I am sure

Bryan Siegel said...

I just read the WSJ piece and was appalled that no one fact checked it before they released it. I would expect more from the WSJ than that. But I applaud Google for this response. I'm an SEO and have seen first hand how the old tricks don't work anymore and how much effort Google is putting forth to clean their results. If you look at Nextag's link profile you'll notice how they've purchases sites to point to their own. On second glance when you look at Nextag what's the value? All I see are ads and thin content for their shopping comparisons. I understand Katz's frustrations because it's felt throughout the industry but Google's been warning sites like your's for a very very long time and they've finally acted upon it with the latest Penguin and Panda updates.

Graham said...

People needs to stop crying and start competing. If you want more search traffic then get to work.

kevin said...

Algorithms are people, my friend.

But seriously, the reason sites like NexTag were hit is because most people simply don't like seeing those results when they're shopping for something.

Personally, I want to see real stores and maybe some forum posts with real people discussing the product. If I want a price comparison site, I'll actually search for price comparisons.

People who believe Google is out to get them will never feel compelled to make the changes required to be more appealing to human beings.

Grant Alan Friedline said...

@t0dbld my point simply is Google needs the world's websites and so they really shouldn't disrespect us. Of course it wouldn't make a difference if a handful of people block Google out. But if they think they don't need us, I would love to see what happens if a million or so websites with solid content decided to do it. We could take the power back real quick. You don't have the guts to do it. I understand.

Rajesh said...

Amazing how determined these trolls are at smearing Google; Not a month passes by without somebody whining "Google should just remain a "search engine"

Planet Agnostic said...

This will be the last time I post to Google's policy Blog.

svfox said...

I think Google is huge so they get attacked.
My website, http://wordunscrambler.com has been left unharmed by all the Google updates.

I know businesses that are selling stuff will have it tougher as Google shows more ads at the top and not just the right side.

But it is Google's search engine, that is just how it is.

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SPSK said...

People use google by choice. No one is forcing users to come to google. User base would start declining once the is a real bias.
In any case, nextag - shut the fuck up. You will not get traffic by these cheap tactics.

Franki said...

Perhaps Nextag should stop complaining that they can't compete unless Google tip the field in their favour and instead they should make their own innovative search engine or tie in with Bing. And help Microsoft get people to actually use it.

Yeesh, this isn't like Microsoft where people were forced to buy a PC with Windows, if you don't like Google, don't use it!

Mark D. said...

I have always used Google since I( started on the net and it will take a lot of convincing for me to use anything else. Bing and Yahoo never bring me the results the way they should be. I also like the way Google answers the questions I pose to it.