The European Union believes that Google has been up to some underhanded and generally illegal business practices in its SEO and paid search practices. I thought that since I'm in the EU, I might be able to shed some light on that. Really, I just thought it would be interesting to talk about.
The EU has been saber rattling for some time over this so if you happened to catch a glimpse of the news from time to time this should be no surprise.We're all very anti-monopoly and pro-consumer here in the EU, well, unless you're an EU-based energy company, then you're neither (speaking from personal experience with a major player in that market).
Justice Strikes Again!
Again, I digress, the European Commission has started checking into Google now, stating it has possibly abused its market-leading spot for online search (paid and organic) which resulted in them giving preferential treatment to their own services over competitors.
My reply to that would be: duh! If I run say, a video game news agency, and people come and read my news, would I then link to one of my competitors for more information? No! I link to any informational resource on my own website that I can in hopes of keeping the readers there longer. I mean, I need the page views just as much as the next person. Am I then in violation of anti-trust laws because I am not linking out to other competitive services? Oh wait, I'm not in a market-leading position. Then again, those places never link out to anyone anyway (even when they 'borrow' ideas for stuff from other people).
So the EU is probing Google because they both lead the market, and offer services that have competitors. In the realm of paid advertising, I would imagine there could be some wrong-doing there (not saying Google is at fault as there is no current evidence). In terms of putting links to Google's other services above competing services (which aren't paid placements) I call bullS–T.
Now, what might be illegal is, if proven true (remember, innocent until proven guilty is usually the case), actively lowering the ranking of unpaid and paid-search for services that compete. Though I have to question the unpaid inclusion. I suppose if they actively sought to lower the rankings of those services that could be seen as wrong. But if it was done based on quality or lack thereof, then it seems legit to me.
Quality Score is used in ad auctions and is also being called into question by the probe. The EU is looking into whether there is any evidence that Google lowered sponsored links of competing vertical search services quality scores.
Here's some info from AdWords on Quality Score:
A Quality Score is calculated every time your keyword matches a search query — that is, every time your keyword has the potential to trigger an ad. Quality Score is used in several different ways, including:
- influencing your keywords' actual cost-per-clicks (CPCs)
- estimating the first page bids that you see in your account
- determining if a keyword is eligible to enter the ad auction that occurs when a user enters a search query
- affecting how high your ad will be ranked
In general, the higher your Quality Score, the lower your costs and the better your ad position.
Once More Round the Park James…
This is not the first time that Google has been looked into for these types of allegations, the last being deemed baseless (in Europe no less). The former cases found that the content quality on complaining sites was mostly duplicated and/or repurposed, meaning of course, lower quality scores.
In the Google Public Policy blog, they have responded to the European Commission's move and had this to say:
So that everyone understands how we approach search and ads ranking, we thought it would be helpful to state clearly the principles that guide our business:
- Answering users' queries accurately and quickly is our number one goal. Sometimes the best, most relevant answer to a query is our traditional "ten blue links”, and sometimes it is a news article, sports score, stock quote, video, or a map. Today, when you type in "weather in London" or "15 grams in ounces" you get the answers directly (often before you even hit Enter). In the future, we will need to answer much more complex questions just as fast and as clearly. We believe ads are information too, which is why we work so hard to ensure that the advertisements you see are directly relevant to what you are looking for;
- We built Google for users, not websites. It may seem obvious, but people sometimes forget this — not every website can come out on top, or even appear on the first page of our results, so there will almost always be website owners who are unhappy about their rankings. The most important thing is that we satisfy our users.
- We are always clear when we have been paid for promoting a product or service. Before we launched Google, many search engines took money for inclusion in their results without making that clear to users. We have never done that and we always distinguished advertising content from our organic search results. As we experiment with new ad formats and types of content, we promise to continue to be transparent about payments.
- We aim to be as transparent as possible. We provide more information about how our ranking works than any other major search engine, through our webmaster central site, blog, diagnostic tools, support forum, and YouTube channel. We give our advertisers information about the ad auction, tips on how to improve their ad quality scores, and the ability to simulate their bids to give them more transparency. And we're committed to increasing that transparency going forward. At the same time, we don't want to help people game our system. We do everything we can to ensure that the integrity of our results isn't compromised.
I'm in Imports and Exports
The EU is also looking at how information for campaigns can be exported to other platforms in the paid-search realm. Now, I just so happen to be running some Adwords campaigns for GDN presently. I am free to highlight my copy and paste it anywhere I please. Additionally, when I write my ad copy, I don't do it in the browser interface. Google says that advertisers have always had the ability to use an API and export their data to places like Microsoft AdCenter.
Penalizing Google for not supplying something like that is similar (in my opinion) to penalizing Wal-Mart for not offering customers a K-Mart price list (for Europeans it's like penalizing TESCO for not telling you something is cheaper at Lidl). It's just stupid. Sure, it's nice and helps promote competition in the paid-search arena, but should Google be held responsible for growing competition or should competition be responsible for doing it? I vote the latter.
Google didn't bother to respond to that in the blog and frankly, I don't blame them one bit. It's just silliness (some people will do anything when they believe they have been slighted, including making up stupid reasons why someone else should be penalized).
What will be the Results?
Ha see the word play there? An article about search and I used results? Feh..never mind. According to some industry pundits (or experts if you believe them to be so) if the EU miraculously (my word not theirs) finds Google in the wrong it could force a re-pricing of minimum bids, raise Quality Scores and increase bidding all around. That seems like it would benefit Google the most.
What I don't get is, why would other search services be advertising on Google? That is literally like Target putting an ad out in Wal-mart's flier, isn't it (EU version: Bauhaus, buying ad space at Globus)? Perhaps they feel they need to advertise there because, it's the only way anyone would know that their search service exists (because of the lack of content, reach and quality?).
Even then, would you click on a link to another search service after having just done a search on Google for something? I wouldn't, because I know I probably have the best shot of finding what I want on those search result pages at Google. I mean sure, if I were searching for a search service at Google (ouch my head!) then I would obviously, click on a link to a search service…a Google Search Engine Result Page link….to another search engine. It's like those old Land O' Lakes butter boxes with the Indian woman, holding a box of Land O' Lakes butter with a picture of an Indian woman holding….