Google Allegedly Skews Results Listings to Help Itself: Surprise?

January 24, 2017

I read a Wall Street Journal recycling research from a search engine optimization outfit called SEMrush. The idea is that Google looks at a user’s query and puts links to its products where its search users will see them and click on them. Doesn’t Diego Simeone’s kid play professional soccer. I suppose the successful coach of Athletico Madrid has skewed other coaches’ interest in his gifted, advantaged progeny.

My Wall Street Journal online account doesn’t work. No joy. I take the dead tree version of Mr. Murdoch’s flagshipish newspaper, but it is a hassle to provide links to online content which will not appear. Therefore, I have watched the “revelations” about Google’s fiddled results as it flashed around the interwebs.

I noted a version of the story with the crafty title “’Google Buys Ad Space above Search Results to Promote Its Own Products – Giving It an Advantage over Its Online Competitors’. The write up provides a clear explanation of Google’s alleged misdeeds. I can hear the shouts from some, “Bench Simeone’s kid.”

The write up asserts:

According to the Journal, whenever someone enters a search term in Google related to pieces of hardware, ads for the relevant items sold by either Google or a sister company would appear in the most prominent spot on the page 91 percent of the time. In 43 percent of instances, the top two ads were for Google-linked products.

The write up embraces the meat of the SEMrush research revelation:

Google’s practice of favoring its own product ads on relevant search results has raised questions over whether it is violating anti-trust laws.

My view is that Google displays information in search results which attempt to accomplish these goals. Remember. These are my observations based on my research for my three Google monographs and the columns I wrote about Google for Information Today for two or three years. Links to the articles are on my LinkedIn page and on the Information Today Web site.

Observation 1. Google makes decisions like any other Sillycon Valley company; that is, product managers or their ilk cajole engineers to make changes which generate revenue. Some senior executives are unaware or partially aware of these manual and algorithmic tweaks. In large, chaotic outfits, only a handful of people may know what’s been twiddled. Most in the outfit don’t care what their colleagues are doing. The consequences can range from nuking traffic to a Web site to giving pride of place to a Google “fave”.

Observation 2. Google needs clicks itself. What is the company going to do to push some of its own products. Why plug the iPhone when one is selling the Pixel. The Pixel marketers who manage to get some space on results screens can’t manufacture enough phones to meet demand. Some of the Pixel’s flaws go unfixed because the craziness of the Pixel allows miscommunication, missteps, and misunderstandings to flourish in the Google greenhouse. Producing clicks is tough even for Google because only a tiny fraction of Web and mobile search users click on ads and pay attention to their messages. My view is that silver tongued Googlers talk their products to the top. Google engineers just want life to be marketing to leave them alone as I perceive the work environment. The “pride of place” phenomenon has spread like mould in wallboard. Those who should be paying attention are involved with Loon balloons and wrangling for slots in President Trump’s administration. The business processes themselves allow the present results policies to flourish and become the de facto way to do business.

Observation 3. Google needs to pump up revenue. I know that most of the Wall Street wizards think I deserve to live in a backwater in rural Kentucky. But the reality is that the shift from desktop search traffic to mobile search traffic has started a fire in the USS Google’s lower deck. Alphabet, the parent company, has to find replacement revenues before the search revenue starts to flat line and maybe drift down. Thus, the need for money feeds the indifference to the business processes which allow Googlers to promote the company’s products in order to pump up sales. Whether Google transfers cash to buy ads or whether an engineer does what a sleek Google MBA wants makes no difference to me. The result shaping has been a characteristic of “relevance” since 2005 or 2006. Precision and recall have been killed in the battle for revenue.

I don’t like or dislike the Alphabet Google thing. I have paid some attention to the company since I met Larry Page at a search engine conference. I was, as I recall, one of the people who said on our panel that truncation was going to be in Google’s future. Mr. Page laughed at me and said, “Never.”

Guess what?

Google implemented truncation when it started to get serious about clustering and other not so CLEVER methods.

Once advertising enters search processes, objectivity, precision, and recall are doomed. After 16 years, I find it amusing that experts are just now discovering that Google search is not the same as running a query on the old fashioned Westlaw system.

There are other little surprises in the Alphabet Google system too. I documented many of these for my clients between 2002 and 2010 when I grew tired of hearing people say, “I am an expert in search.”

Yeah, right. That’s why it has taken 16 years for the nature of Google search results to catch users’ attention.

Shaped results? Ad placement fast dancing?

Big surprises, right?

Stephen E Arnold, January 24, 2017


One Response to “Google Allegedly Skews Results Listings to Help Itself: Surprise?”

  1. Sonya Wiley on January 24th, 2017 2:33 pm

    Hey Larry
    I wanted to share this with you:
    I’m gearing up to check that heartless, soulless bastard you unfortunately have to deal with for now on, I’m going to lessen your load and reveal the truth behind this monster.

    I want a billion dollars minimum from him or I’ll take his freedom like he and they took mine.

    We have to put him in check, he’s a danger to me, you, the community, national security and everyone around him, I’m going to check him for sure.

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