Google's Youtube Potentially Cloaking? Or VEVO Launch?

[update: Matt Cutts contacted me and mentioned that this was due to the Vevo launch which occurred after that page was cached. Over time that means such pages like the one mentioned below should be purged from the Google search index.]

Google claims they try to be pretty fair with publishers and publishing business models. They are fine with indexing preview versions of a page and just showing a user that, you can make the full article free, you can make the first x clicks free.

OR you can put it all behind a paywall and not get any search exposure.

UNLESS you are Youtube.

In which case you can put whatever you want behind a subscribe wall, still have that registration-required/paywall content fully indexed in Google, and then force users to sign in to view the content.

On the cache copy of pages people still can view the pre-roll ads, but not the content :D

Search Google for "poker face", observe all the Youtube data in the search results, click the top Youtube listing, and watch them send you to a login page so they can better track you and target ads against you.

Many publishers that are having trouble figuring out search (from a business model perspective) would have no problem making a ton of money from search if they got the good ole home cooking treatment that Youtube currently enjoys (universal search promotion + cloaking forcing registration).

And this is where Google being rumored to acquire other content properties (like Yelp) becomes scary for users and publishers and advertisers alike.

Publicly Google preaches the virtues of openness

To understand our position in more detail, it helps to start with the assertion that open systems win. This is counter-intuitive to the traditionally trained MBA who is taught to generate a sustainable competitive advantage by creating a closed system, making it popular, then milking it through the product life cycle. The conventional wisdom goes that companies should lock in customers to lock out competitors. There are different tactical approaches — razor companies make the razor cheap and the blades expensive, while the old IBM made the mainframes expensive and the software ... expensive too. Either way, a well-managed closed system can deliver plenty of profits. They can also deliver well-designed products in the short run — the iPod and iPhone being the obvious examples — but eventually innovation in a closed system tends towards being incremental at best (is a four blade razor really that much better than a three blade one?) because the whole point is to preserve the status quo. Complacency is the hallmark of any closed system. If you don't have to work that hard to keep your customers, you won't.

Open systems are just the opposite. They are competitive and far more dynamic. In an open system, a competitive advantage doesn't derive from locking in customers, but rather from understanding the fast-moving system better than anyone else and using that knowledge to generate better, more innovative products. The successful company in an open system is both a fast innovator and a thought leader; the brand value of thought leadership attracts customers and then fast innovation keeps them. This isn't easy — far from it — but fast companies have nothing to fear, and when they are successful they can generate great shareholder value.

Open systems have the potential to spawn industries. They harness the intellect of the general population and spur businesses to compete, innovate, and win based on the merits of their products and not just the brilliance of their business tactics. The race to map the human genome is one example.

But as soon as Google gets a market dominant position, you can bet on them locking it down to enhance ad revenues. The secret search relevancy algorithms, AdWords ad quality score, using AdWords rebates to push Google Checkout, always-on search personalization (even when logged out), mystery meat payout rates to AdSense publishing partners, universal search algorithms that allow them to arbitrarily promote their own websites, YouTube cloaking, etc etc etc

It looks like they jumped the gun on Yelp. Google was already integrating Yelp reviews in their AdWords ads before the acquisition was finalized.

What does it mean for the rest of us?

I am not sure.

It depends on if Google believes in what they say or what they do. They can't believe both.

Published: December 22, 2009

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Comments

December 22, 2009 - 12:52pm

try the cache link it looks like something was there on december 9th. you would think a popular song/video/search would be crawled and updated more often. I suspect the 303 error code has something to do with it.

The advertising implementation on the video though seems non-standard.

December 22, 2009 - 1:01pm

ok so you can see the video here but with a vevo wrapper

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_de3C3Pkb8Q

the vevo launch date is very close to the cache date of december 9th

http://mashable.com/2009/12/08/vevo-details/

you can see the nearly identical content on the vevo site though

http://www.vevo.com/watch/lady-gaga/poker-face/USUV70806637

December 22, 2009 - 2:15pm

what about Experts Exchange? they do the same yet Google permits it

December 22, 2009 - 9:19pm

They do scroll cloaking. The content is on the page...just at the very bottom.

Same deceptive intent, but for some reason Google doesn't mind that format ;)

December 22, 2009 - 10:17pm

jedi58, Experts Exchange serves up the same content to Googlebot as to users, therefore it's not cloaking. That's why the webspam team doesn't take action.

December 22, 2009 - 4:34pm

if you just do another search in the Youtube bar at the top without logging in, you can watch the video, so Google is just playing games with going from search to watching. They're not making it impossible to watch without logging in.

Semantics, I know, but it's weird to see where this is going.

December 22, 2009 - 4:59pm

Google comes out and says "open is the way" to sway public opinion in their favor while taking clear swings at Microsoft and Apple for their closed source operating systems. They are trying to break into the desktop and mobile OS markets so it makes sense for them to attack on a field that the two giants can't really compete on. It's a PR move to position themselves as being part of the gang instead of being the boss. Their code is open source so it's a good move on their part.

But really, the meat of this post is pointing at the fact that Google treats their own properties better than they treat the properties of others.

There is absolutely no fundamental moral, legal, or business related reason why they should not do so. Do you promote other's products on your own landing pages? Do you try to increase the rank of pages with competing offers? This "fairness" that you're trying to say Google does not abide by is a myth.

Why shouldn't they use their own properties to push their other properties in their own, biased way? It is their property to what they wish to do with it. If you don't like Google you should stop using it.

Fox did what they felt they had to do in a business sense by blocking Google News from showing their content. We see it as being largely stupid, but they're taking their stance on how to solve what they perceive to be a problem. If your problem with their move is philosophical you should not utilize their service and enhance their services with your content. If you think their service is suffering, again, don't use it. If the problem is monetary then there is nothing to argue about, since Google is free to make the best choices for Google as a business. We all are.

December 22, 2009 - 9:03pm

Why shouldn't they use their own properties to push their other properties in their own, biased way?

Such moves cost Microsoft billions of Dollars. I am just making sure Google's such moves are documented.

But there is also a second piece of this. If you do *not* want your content indexed in Google (or if Google decides to penalize your site) then often you will end up finding some of it on 3rd party sites wrapped in Google AdSense ads and ranked on Google.

Part of how Google justifies the above process is by claiming that people prefer to link to open information and such. And yet they say cloaking is spam while they go ahead and cloak on one of the top 10 largest websites.

I am just pointing out that their own guidelines are being violated. They already have a monopoly market position. Imagine enjoying a monopoly market position, and then creating rules for everyone else on the web to follow, while not following those rules internally.

And yes I know the Google support of open is a public relations move...but I just wanted to put it in context. :)

Looks like some others did it as well

It’s the biggest pile of horseshit I’ve ever seen from Google.

Google talks a lot about openness and their commitment to open source software. What they are really doing is practicing a classic business strategy known as “commoditizing the complement“

December 22, 2009 - 9:48pm

@kgpm if it were only that simple.

The US government (as well as others) grants Google a good deal of breathing room, because Google has been pushing hard into a relatively new frontier *and* because Google presented a fair face. Look closely at the early copyright concerns around snippets, the tolerance for trading on marks with AdWords, the book deals, and the big ones nobody wants to talk about -- censorship and privacy.

Consider that preference a government subsidy... lobbied for by Google and paid for with your tax dollars. And given the monopoly-like situation, this creates an anti-competitive barrier for others. It is almost as if, via such tolerance, the government protects Google against competition. It certainly is not protecting consumers, except as might be argued to be enabling innovation.

And so Google can and should be held to a higher standard when it comes to delivery on that perceived benevolence. Every time they abuse the public trust, they should be held accountable.

December 22, 2009 - 10:14pm

As Michael pointed out in the first couple comments, you can click on the "Cached" link to see that we did have content from when we crawled the page, which is why you can see good info in the result snippets. And as Michael mentions, the Vevo switchover happened right in that time range. So I believe that's the explanation rather than jumping to the conclusion that Google was cloaking.

Michael Gray defending Google and me saying "I think Michael Gray is right"--it's a Christmas miracle! :)

December 22, 2009 - 11:49pm

Was my update good enough there Matt? Or should the title be changed too?

December 23, 2009 - 12:27am

Thanks for adding that update at the top; I think that gives helpful context. I really don't think it was cloaking, because I think a lot of urls changed right around then. I hope you're having good holidays!

December 23, 2009 - 3:00pm

Such moves cost Microsoft billions of Dollars. I am just making sure Google's such moves are documented.

Microsoft has over 90% market share for PCs. There is a stark difference between that and the 60-some-odd-debatable-percent of search share that Google has.

Google has every right to reserve space in their own properties to promote their own products. There are no switching costs for the vast majority of search engine users, so if the service suffers, or if they feel mislead, there is little-to-no impact on them if they decide to switch to Bing as their main search provider.

The US government (as well as others) grants Google a good deal of breathing room, because Google has been pushing hard into a relatively new frontier *and* because Google presented a fair face. Look closely at the early copyright concerns around snippets, the tolerance for trading on marks with AdWords, the book deals, and the big ones nobody wants to talk about -- censorship and privacy.

Nobody wants to talk about what? Google didn't do something wrong here and people are talking about it. People freak out when they sniff any hint of wrong-doing on Google's part. Don't say people don't want to talk about it, that's simply untrue. Everything Google does is put under a microscope and discussed.

I don't personally like or condone the way Google promotes itself and its products. I don't like the hidden info-mining practices they use to make their money. But more than anything, they aren't doing anything illegal and I don't blame them for being an ambitious organization.

December 23, 2009 - 9:56pm

Microsoft has over 90% market share for PCs. There is a stark difference between that and the 60-some-odd-debatable-percent of search share that Google has.

1.) By measures that impact real publishers the numbers might be closer to 85% http://marketshare.hitslink.com/search-engine-market-share.aspx?qprid=4
2.) There are some countries (like The Netherlands) where Google's search marketshare is north of 90%

There are no switching costs

that is what personalization is supposed to fix, right? create more switching costs.

Everything Google does is put under a microscope and discussed.

not always. not even close really. if you compare how the media writes about "the dark arts of SEO" to how they write about how wonderful Google is for selling clicks there is certainly more microscope being given to SEO than most of Google's business practices (like arbitrary monopoly pricing power setting pricing floors where they claim those floors are set by the market) etc etc etc

December 29, 2009 - 5:26am

Just out of interest, that Google result still displays the same description 10 days (and counting) after Aaron alerted this. And this is the top result for "Poker Face" so you'd have thought that page would be indexed frequently and the Google SERPs updated accordingly.

It would appear the Caffeine update - which is meant to index content much faster - can't come soon enough (sarcasm).

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