Monday, December 13, 2010

Why are we not shocked?

Today The Wall Street Journal published an article stating that Google preferenced results in Google's favor when it offered a service that matched the visitor's query. For example, if a user searched for a cloud based email service, Google Mail will be listed first. Hello?! Any search engine worth its weight in pixels preferences results in favor of the provider or product margin or affiliate bias--you name it. Why should Google, the most sophisticated search engine on the planet do that differently? And not just do it different, likely better than most.

It is probably no secret that search-based web services --auction sites, online travel sites, sales bots, etc-- all have rules running in the background which push favored results toward the top. In my experience working in online travel agency (OTA), when search results were returned for a flight there is often price parity in the results. OTAs are traditionally compensated most by airlines and hoteliers with minor contributions from purchases and service fees. And airlines, for example, offer OTAs volume incentives for selling X number of flights per route per month and get $Y in compensation. So if there are 4 airlines offering flights from Dallas to Houston at $139, you better believe they are going to list the airline first with the best incentive terms since most customers click on the first result. (Wait until Google launches its own travel site powered by ITA in 2011!)

The article concludes intimating that the EU sees this as suspect antitrust. I don't think there is much of a claim as their are alternatives in the marketplace and that this is a common practice in the online industry. If white hat companies were getting excluded from results, then there are problems. Otherwise, Google is rightfully featuring its services and will continue to reap the harvest of providing the leading search service. Get used to being pushed down the list, folks.

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