Google Eats Their Organic Search Results

Sep 8th

"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." - William Gibson

Not only do they monetize via AdWords, but Google has 6 listings in the "organic" search results.

Any Google search engineer care to have a public debate as to the legitimacy of that search result set?

If an SEO gets half of the search results (for anything other than his own brand) he is an overt spammer. If Google eats half of the search results with duplicating nepotism across their own house "brands" then it is legitimate.

Making the above even worse, smaller niche brands are regularly disappeared from Google's index. Google has the ability to redirect search intent to one that is easier to monetize & more along a path they approve of. I was searching for a post John Andrews (webmaster of johnon.com) wrote about Google censorship & what did Google do? They used their power over the dictionary to change the words I searched for on the fly & then promoted their ebooks offering yet again.

Note that listings 1 & 2 promote the exact same book. Google just lists the content they scraped into multiple categories that deserve to be showcased multiple times. How many ways did Google screw up the above search result?

  • they auto-corrected the search query to an unwanted alternate search
  • in spite of auto-correction, they still allowed their other verticals to be inserted in the results inline right near the top (when rare longtail searches are auto-corrected, one would expect them to be more adverse to embedding such an aggressive self-promotion in the search results)
  • they associate content hosted by them as being about their brand simply because they host it (even though that piece of content has no relation to them outside of them scraping it)
  • they list it not once but twice, right at the top of the results (even though it is duplicate content available elsewhere & both pages are the same on Google, with the exception of one promoting a recent version of the book & the other page promoting a decade older version of the exact same book)

As a publisher you are *required* to keep spending more money on deeper editorial to avoid being labeled as spam or tripping some arbitrary "algorithmic" threshold. And as you do so, Google is humping you from the backside to ensure your profit margins stay low, scraping whatever they can within the limits of the law & operating the types of websites that would be considered spam if anyone else ran them. Once regulatory pressures or public opinion catch on to Google's parasitic behavior, they buy a brand & leverage its content to legitimize their (often) illegitimate enterprise. :)

Oh, and how about a quote from the Censored Screams book: "censorship, like charity, should begin at home, but, unlike charity, it should end there.‎"

Published: September 8, 2011

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Comments

September 8, 2011 - 5:55pm

They are putting all the Google Eggs in the Google Basket. Who will debate Aaron?

September 9, 2011 - 8:56pm

I don't think anyone will debate Aaron. His assertions are strong and he is right. Obviously Google wants as many people to click on their products as possible from the search results. One thing I have realized about SEO blogs is that they talk about Google like it is the only search engine on the block. Yes, they have a 65% market share, but try the same search in bing. Extremely different results.

September 8, 2011 - 6:22pm

The one that I love is Google "pizza nyc" - you have to scroll twice just to get to the first result. Local what! Now with Zagat being the latest Google property, what are we in for.

September 8, 2011 - 8:23pm

I totally agree that google is over-pushing places and some of their other brands in the SERPs and I'm really glad that as a top expert in this field you're drawing more & more attention on this matter. HoweverI do have to say that the johnon query returning johnson results is more on the justified side of things. A lot of people are making typos...

September 8, 2011 - 8:33pm

...for them to then follow up that forced spelling change with a double-listing of the exact same piece of Google-hosted content twice?

September 8, 2011 - 9:15pm

One things that annoys me to no end is the way that paid adversiting PPC shows up these days at the top of most search terms. I have suffered several losses on traffic because they way it is now, it is barely visible the difference between organic and paid links.

"Create good content and we will ensure that your users find you .... but pay us a tad bit more and you get even more traffic"

It really pisses me off. Ok Google has to make some money, we all do, but at least I'm not blabbling around "create good content" on one side and acting differently on the other

September 8, 2011 - 9:50pm

thoughts on the current Google Antitrust madness and defective SERPs…

Google has become the primary portal to the internet that works by ranking and ordering information in response to any given search query. This is Google’s primary business. The real antitrust issue that seems to be missed is when Google uses its status and position as gate keeper and information retriever, which is its primary business, to enter into competition with the information resources, products, services and companies it ranks and orders.

I would say Google displaying information from a third party website or other source on its SERP page is a fair use; however, having to click onto one of Google’s properties where that information is hosted and viewed without the need to go to the actual source crosses the line on two counts.
First, by hosting and displaying content for viewing on one of Google’s own sites linked to from the SERPs instead of on the actual SERP, Google is officially entering as a competitor into the market in question. They are no longer just ordering and sorting information. If on that Google owned site, linked to from the SERP, Google additionally repurposes information/content from another site without permission it has then not only used its gate keeper position to gain unfair advantage entering into that market but it has also potentially stolen intellectual property or violated copyright information.

The two issues are using its monopolistic position as primary internet gate keeper and information retrieval system to unfairly enter a market and secondly stealing intellectual property from competitors once having entered that market.

There are two examples coming to mind that already or could be violations: Google’s new hotel finder and Yelp’s content appearing on Google Places. For hotel finder Google is right on the line and has basically entered the online travel booking market. They have created a thin affiliate site that adds another layer between the SERP and the major online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity. There is no useful purpose to Hotel Finder it has less quality then the existing entries yet those entries are forced through hotel finder. With the new ITA acquisition it seems all but certain this will end up in a loss for the existing online travel agencies.

With Google Places it’s a violation of both types because it has entered as a competitor to sites like yellowpages.com and at one point (now stopped) it was using information from sites like Yelp on places.

Using your Hollywood Cauldron search to illustrate the point, Google Books is a competitor of amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com which also rank. In this case, it seems like a major antitrust violation where Google is using its dominant position to compete unfairly. The main reason is that Google Books is a subdomain of Google.com which means they instantly have a huge rankings boost from a PR10 site! If Google wants to show results for Google Books then they should put the link in the side navigational menu under a heading called “Google Offerings” but leave it out of the Organic SERPs.

I hope that made some sense and I’m interested in hearing Aaron’s and anyone else’s view.

September 9, 2011 - 12:28am

...however, in the past Eric Schmidt mentioned how lobbyists write the laws & Google now has over a dozen lobbying firms working for them.

I think it is even a bit worse than you suggested though. They are not only using search as a leverage point, but they are also using its profits to do price dumping in parallel markets. They scrape as much as they can to suck value (and profitability) out of the vertical, and then after they have significantly damaged the vertical they go in and buy one of the players & integrate it (its not hard to be the best in the market after you destroy the ability to profit in the niche with a scrape & displace).

And then after Google buys a Zagat or launches their Deals the other businesses are not only at a position where most of their profitability had been sucked dry, but Google then also has enhanced exposure to defray the cost of upkeep on whatever service they buy. Then if they run into any legal troubles during their cycle they go out and buy patents to counter-sue. They even trade off some of their purchased patents to other companies like HTC.

Google doesn't respect property rights, but so far they are winning with their current strategy. They failed badly when they thought they could screw the pharmaceutical corporations, but outside of the banks and health vertical there are not many businesses that are politically connected enough & wealthy enough to challenge Google.

Possession is 9/10ths of the law, and Google has your content. :D

If you prevent them from getting it then they will use their AdSense ads to fund someone stealing it & cost you a bundle for opting out of their game. They also sell ads against brands & trademarks, and while they were getting hounded about the medical ads they stated that they banned 50,000 AdWords advertisers that were selling counterfeit goods. How does the problem even get anywhere near that scale without being shut down unless they condone the activity?

The same Google has a "get rich quick" AdSense category where they claim it offers "schemes promising fast earnings."

September 8, 2011 - 10:52pm

Yes, we all know Google is doing all these things, and yes it sucks the big one.

Unfortunately, I don't see a future where they're ever going to get in trouble for any of this. They've already been let off the hook for Street View and now they're pumping money hand over fist into Washington to keep the heat off of them.

Personally, I'm trying to convince all my clients to give up on Google. duckduckgo is where the future lies. :P

September 9, 2011 - 2:43am

Google "suggest" was the tipping point.

When a society (and asociated business economy) allows a Google to implement "suggest" with nary a complaint, it is a sign of the downward spiral. I am certain that some old school Googlers couldn't believe that was accepted the way it was... and it heralded a new era of manipulation for Google.

When little George Bush cleared the way for the BBC to broadcast on the US public airwaves, it was a similar non-event. A foreign nation's state-owned radio free to broadcast on our public airwaves, to our citizens? Unheard of in all of history, until now. Imagine Saudi Arabia granting a US government owned radio station permission to broadcast its version of the morning news to the people of Saudi Arabia. It's no different, and we allow it.

Once Google saw it could manipulate the public free of scrutiny, behind a thin veil of "suggests are somehow based in user activity", the vault doors were open wide.

September 9, 2011 - 1:11pm

It is true that Google does these things. Paid ads and Google local results do take up the first page. But is this unfair? Hardly. Google offers a free search engine. What if everyone had to pay to find results? A majority of people would still be looking in phone books and in dictionaries instead of searching online. As someone who is trying to promote my company, Vignature, I prefer for most people to be searching for things online. Google is the dominant search engine, and so they can do what they like. The funny thing is that Bing is even paying to advertise on Google. Run a search in Google on "search engines" and you'll see.

September 9, 2011 - 4:40pm

"Google is the dominant search engine, and so they can do what they like. "

Indeed that is their view of it. But...

  • Does that allow them to run ads for 50,000 advertisers dealing in counterfeit goods? It did for a while.
  • Does that allow them to sell illegal drug ads? It did for a while.
  • Does that allow them to suggest users search for warez, serials, cracks & keygens? It did for a while (and may soon again).
  • Does that allow them to "accidentally" collect wifi information with their cars, "accidentally" violate user privacy with Google Buzz, etc. etc. etc.? It did for a while.
  • Does that allow them to do all-or-nothing bundling where they scrape your reviews & replace you in the search results with your content on their places page? It did for a while.
  • Does that allow them to run their ads on warez websites? It did for a while.
  • Does that allow them to pay people to steal your content & wrap it in AdSense? They still do.
  • Does that allow them to invest in or buy sites that violate their guidelines? They still do.
  • Does that allow them to run a "get rich quick category" promoting schemes that promise quick earnings? They still do.

How much of the above was illegal?

Only time will tell.

However, the legal system is on Google's side. The lobbyists write the laws & Google only has over A DOZEN lobbying firms working for them.

To some degree you also miss how some of that marketshare was acquired. Not only have they advertised aggressively & bundled crapware to buy marketshare, but they have hinted that if you don't integrate their other crap on your site they will rank you lower & they *have* been raided by competition / fair trade officials.

September 9, 2011 - 3:59pm

There are multiple issues at play. Paid ads is a sort of separate issue and by themselves are not a problem as long as they are clearly marked as ads separate from organic results. Whether Google decides to cannibalize its organic results with paid ads is a business decision that in my experience makes the serps less useful but as long as they are clearly marked as ads wouldn’t be an antitrust issue.

Since Google organic results are the primary way to find web sites on the internet, and Google controls those results, it is unfair that Google uses its position of control to enter into the very markets it is ranking. It’s a huge conflict of interest.
Google is a search engine that organizes and retrieves the world’s information but now they want to also be a book seller, a travel agent and local review expert? That’s fine, expect that they control access to those verticals and they are using that control to gain an unfair advantage in entering the market.

They should focus on organizing and retrieving the world’s information and stop. The plan seems to be to organize the world’s information, copy it and then sell it as original.

Apparently, they are moving away from advertising as their primary revenue model. If Google wasn’t under so much pressure to keep the stock growing they probably wouldn’t be going totally insane with their expansion like they are right now.

September 9, 2011 - 4:56pm

Paid ads is a sort of separate issue and by themselves are not a problem as long as they are clearly marked as ads separate from organic results. Whether Google decides to cannibalize its organic results with paid ads is a business decision that in my experience makes the serps less useful but as long as they are clearly marked as ads wouldn’t be an antitrust issue.

But are they clearly marked as ads? Not according to independent studies or Google's ad sales team. ;)

I bought a new laptop recently & at a common viewing angle I couldn't see any background coloring on the ads. Others have noticed this as well.

Worse yet, on some content sites Google has offered no ad label, which can create uncomfortable impressions.

They should focus on organizing and retrieving the world’s information and stop. The plan seems to be to organize the world’s information, copy it and then sell it as original.

Absolutely right. The pattern is: destroy the profitability of competing business models, kill the associated ecosystem, buy out a flailing playing in that niche wholesale, and then build it back up.

Apparently, they are moving away from advertising as their primary revenue model.

For now I think the primary model is still ads, but they just want to control multiple touch points on the value stream. In time as more things are delivered as software & information over the web I certainly see them pushing media sales more aggressively, but in most media formats they are still working on destroying profitability & killing the ecosystems. They won't want to rebuild the categories until the future partners or acquisitions are incredibly desperate & Google has more leverage at the negotiation table.

If Google wasn’t under so much pressure to keep the stock growing they probably wouldn’t be going totally insane with their expansion like they are right now.

According to Google's admission of guilt [PDF] the illegal drug ads went back to at least 2003. That was before Google was even a public company.

September 9, 2011 - 7:13pm

It's pretty bad. I have subscribed to this RSS feed for a long while now. However, it appears that every post anymore is about how "bad" Google is. They're a company. Have a very large system that people use to find things online. In the end, it's their system! They can do what they may. If they do things too over the top people will leave. However, complaining like their products are evil and a doomsday attitude in place is getting borish and lame.

Can you do a topic next on puppies and kittens? Something to make things happier and more upbeat and not your personal conquest to down the search giant?

September 9, 2011 - 8:14pm

...isn't trivial.

I can write blog posts about "37 ways to get the most out of your page title" but those posts already exist elsewhere. ;)

It is not like this blog is going to "down the search giant" but I do know that our blog has been a topic of interest with the founders on multiple occasions. Knowing that they read it & that it has come up multiple times gives me hope that if I write what I may that they might adjust their approach to be a bit less adversarial. It might be naive, but it is still better than "37 ways to get the most out of your page title."

September 9, 2011 - 10:49pm

Even though there are some posts on this blog that seem too excessively and maybe emotionally bash Google as being evil, I think somewhere in all of them a strong under tone of truth and fact exists. That’s what has kept me interested and why I posted: I wanted to point out what Google is doing that I think is truly unfair/monopolistic/antitrust and not just bash them.
There are definitely things Google does that I don’t like but that Google has every right to do, like Matt Cutts giving us a load of SPIN/house of mirrors SEO advice. At the same time, I understand he can’t tell people exactly how the algorithm works because it will be ruthlessly abused the second he does. To focus on those kinds of actions by Google is kind of pointless bashing. It’s their secret sauce and they don’t have to tell us anything.
On the other hand, when Google uses its position as portal to the web to unfairly enter its own sites into the verticals it is supposedly ranking without bias it’s an entirely different story that needs to be brought up. Google books, definitely. Hotel finder and Places, crossing back and forth over the line, yes.
What I’ve seen over the last three years and what I’ve read/heard about the time prior we’ve gone from the internet and search being the Wild West to being mature. I don’t blame Google for the Canadian pharmacy stuff it was back during the Wild West days and could easily have been ignored during a period of explosive growth. Google got away with more and so did SEOs if you can call it “getting away with.” There really wasn’t much precedent etc.
It may be naive but I don’t think there is a malicious intent to do evil with the majority of Googlers they are just getting caught up in a bunch of different forces and losing their ethics, soul and original intention and are on the path to destroying a lot of industries. Ok, maybe some Googlers have gone evil and don’t know it yet…
It may also be naïve but I hope that someone at Google that has power does read this and they start caring.

As far as why bother. The way I look at it if your business is related to ecommerce, websites or online marketing then you’re in the same room with Google and Facebook. They are the two 800 pound gorillas and for the last year one of them, the big G, has been going crazy crushing people left and right and someone needs to let them know that they have a trail of dead bodies stuck in their fur and eventually it’s going to start stinking in this room if things don’t change.

September 10, 2011 - 1:04am

As far as why bother. The way I look at it if your business is related to ecommerce, websites or online marketing then you’re in the same room with Google and Facebook. They are the two 800 pound gorillas and for the last year one of them, the big G, has been going crazy crushing people left and right and someone needs to let them know that they have a trail of dead bodies stuck in their fur and eventually it’s going to start stinking in this room if things don’t change.

At one point online was a competitive strategy, but now it is just a channel. And now that channel is feeding back into the real world.

As local news organizations, the yellow page companies (& many other forms of navigation and recommendation) are whacked off & replaced by recommendations from search engines via an always-on mobile device that knows *exactly* where you are, businesses that are reliant on a steady stream of new customers (rather than those building deep relationships...and not all businesses can do that IMHO) are heavily reliant on algorithms that can change quickly & arbitrarily.

Sure if you have a large business then there are going to be enough signals around that your potential death would be a slow one of a thousand cuts over time (giving you time to adjust), but small businesses can go from not having customers to having too many all at once to not having any again.

A shift in localization can put an obscure business front & center and overwhelm them. And if they cut their other advertising while hiring to meet the increased demand (or, worse yet, take on debt leverage to try to grow with that demand), then they could be 1 algorithmic update away from bankruptcy, especially if they are one of the businesses that *randomly* disappears or are "closed in error."

Certain categories (say restaurants) will have strong word-of-mouth & certain businesses have many distribution points. Big brands will also be able to easily influence core relevancy signals while building additional offline distribution channels (each Starbucks location is an ad for the Starbucks brand & all other Starbucks stores & you can lose money in one location and still win if you view it as an ad for the bigger brand).

But other highly commoditized & low margin businesses that have no social aspect to them are much harder to market, especially if you are new to the market. It isn't easy to make snow plowing or lawn mowing or divorce lawyers or life insurance or coffin sales sound sexy. ;)

Many markets will be replaced by software / algorithms, moving entirely online/virtual. But they still haven't made a Roomba for snow plowing yet. :D

The other thing that is going on the same time as the algorithmic control is developing is intensified competition from online competitors & competitors with more scale + pricing power. A friend of mine who opened a local book store told me his wholesale price on a new $35 book was $21 & that both Amazon.com and Wal-Mart are selling the same book retail for $9! And that doesn't even account for additional disruptions due to the shift to digital / e-books.

Ultimately these changes force most businesses to turn commodity products into higher value services & to put a lot more effort into marketing strategy and differentiation.

September 10, 2011 - 9:30pm

Google started as a search engine, but is now largely a portal.

The biggest competitive edge they have is consumer-familiarity. i.e. "I use Google because I've always used Google"

I don't think anyone can really make much of a compelling argument that Google's organic results are exceptional. I know that even when I search something that is more obscure, like looking for old medical journals or something, I routinely encounter just pages and pages of spam results.

Google is in a position of absolute power right now- which makes their behavior all the more unconscionable. Aside from the larger issues at play, it is entirely possible that a small business can be destroyed if Google bans them from Adwords or deranks them to insert their own properties.

I still don't feel that any regulators really grasp the fact that Google is already hurting REAL people. It's not just some conceptual exercise about market dominance.

September 12, 2011 - 3:14am

These changes are killing small business search results at a time when they most need them. Favoring big business (Brands) in such a heavy handed way may be the the most evil thing they can do to America.

Aaron I argued with you about killing the small businesses, but so far you are right. Its very sad.

September 12, 2011 - 4:33am
September 13, 2011 - 5:37am

I find it as no surprise Google is starting to more and more in terms favors big brands. I'm very excited that you're writing about this. I've also see this favoritism with a lot with adWords accounts, where big brands are given higher quality scores and are given lower CPCs.

September 13, 2011 - 6:53pm

Google is protecting the old guard from innovative online companies (apart form itself!). Once the small businesses are pushed out then Google will go after the big brands and host nearly all of their content on its platforms.

September 13, 2011 - 11:38pm

Great article to read and I love the comments that are coming in. Webmasters, publishers, and tech geeks were what helped Google create the dominance that they have today. It's in our power to not use them. Google has such much weight because we give it to them. It's just like with television shows that needs audience to maintain their ad budgets. Google needs people to search. If we are not happy, then don't use Google for search. If enough people stop using Google search then they won't have as much ground to stand on and people would eventually stop caring about Google and what it does with their SERPPs.

I've not been a fan of their SERPs ever since they started putting their own scraped content in front of other legit sites. I've never been a fan of Places and I feel that it's one of the biggest scams on the web. Other than the map that they show on the page, none of the content was produced by Google, and they wrap ads on those pages to monetize other people's content and information.

On top of that, to me, the biggest offense is that they will place competitors on that same page. This means that if a person was looking for a specific local business and they type in a search that produced the Places block to be shown, a person could click on that Places page, view the details for the business they were looking for, but would also see the direct competitors for this business and could click on one of them, thus resulting in a loss sale. Rather than just display the business they are looking for and send traffic directly to that source, as the user would have intended and would make for a good user experience, they send them to another page with scrape content, more ads, and competitors so that person who was looking for a specific local business could actually wind up going somewhere else because Google doesn't care about a specific local business's bottom line, they only care about their business bottom line.

September 14, 2011 - 6:15am

I've not been a fan of their SERPs ever since they started putting their own scraped content in front of other legit sites. I've never been a fan of Places and I feel that it's one of the biggest scams on the web. Other than the map that they show on the page, none of the content was produced by Google, and they wrap ads on those pages to monetize other people's content and information.

If you read this post (and click through to the final link on it) you will see that it is going to get much worse.

the biggest offense is that they will place competitors on that same page. This means that if a person was looking for a specific local business and they type in a search that produced the Places block to be shown, a person could click on that Places page, view the details for the business they were looking for, but would also see the direct competitors for this business and could click on one of them, thus resulting in a loss sale.

And if the location is charged as an AdWords click then you would be paying Google to arbitrage your own brand *and* funnel that traffic to a direct competitor.

Absolutely brutal!

September 15, 2011 - 9:15pm

What’s going on reminds me of “Appeasement” prior to World War II.

“Appeasement was used by European democracies in the 1930s who wished to avoid war with the dictatorships of Germany and Italy, bearing in mind the horrors of the First World War.” Wikipedia. (First World War = Microsoft)

The Eurpoean democracies made concessions to the 800 pound Gorilla at the time(Germany) because they had no choice. When Hotel Finder launched, the travel industry executives(Expedia, Travelocity, etc) came out and said they welcomed it, when Google bought Motorola the handset makers(HTC, Samsung, etc) executives came out and said virtually the same thing and a few days ago when Google flight finder launched, travel executives(Kayak, etc) came out and said they welcomed it (Those are just the “friendly” monopolistic affronts, never mind the hostile ones like Google+ taking on Facebook or Chrome OS taking on Windows…).

While Google may have given some patents to HTC recently to help them I would suggest that the executives in those industries into which Google is now entering are seriously fooling themselves if they think Google has anything but its own best interest in mind when they enter your market and “help you” eat your lunch.

Either way, the verticals Google is entering into by unfairly leveraging its monopoly power had best start fighting back hard while they still have anything left to fight for.

January 8, 2012 - 1:38pm

http://ericschmidtgoogle.blogspot.com/2012/01/past-present-future-of-our...

"Do you think people would have let Google index their sites in the first place, had they know we eventually would simply replace them?"

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