Google Fined $2.7B – Do they really favor their own content?

Julie Waldman, July 18, 2017

Google was recently fined $2.7 billion – the largest fine in EU antitrust history – for unfairly favoring its shopping service.

The EU’s concern, and that of Google’s competitors, is that Google has the ability to influence important and everyday decisions using technology and algorithms no one has completely deciphered.

But is Google actually biased?

We did an experiment and searched for terms that are highly relevant to Google services. We looked at phrases like “free email account,” “free video hosting,” and “online advertising,” fully expecting to see Gmail, YouTube, and Google Ads results at the top of the list. We were wrong…

Why isn’t Gmail listed at the top?

Surely YouTube should appear here somewhere?

Google Ads didn’t rank for this term

So, is Google really biased?

Google does not seem to be biased towards its own sites, but clearly has preferred sites for given industries; and these, fortunately, are trackable. There is a clear pattern by which Google favors the types of content that satisfies searchers. We have been following the ways in which Google shows an apparent bias towards specific content, and we use this information when setting strategies in place for our clients. For example:

  • Searching for a company almost always results in their own corporate website at the top, followed by Wikipedia and LinkedIn. If the company uses Twitter regularly, Google typically displays a box of Twitter results from that official account.
  • For B2B industries, we further see a Bloomberg profile and Glassdoor ratings, as well as other industry specific results.
    • With hedge funds and financial services, for example, we typically find profiles on other sites like Nasdaq, Whale Wisdom, or Crunchbase.
    • For PR companies, we see directory listings on O’Dwyer’s and The Holmes Report.
      In the hospitality industry, Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Booking are prevalent (along with the hotel’s own page and often Facebook).
  • Similarly, local businesses can expect to see review sites like Yelp and, often, Tripadvisor.
  • Search results for individuals follow a different format than those for companies. Nevertheless, individuals with a strong online presence can also expect to find their results follow a formula.
    • Executives with Wikipedia page typically see it ranking first. Besides social media, sites like salary.com and equilar.com are also ubiquitous.

There is a lot to be learned by tracking search results closely by location and industry – and even by peers and competitors.

As for paid results – Google runs ads and controls those ads just like a newspaper or magazine does. If editorial decisions are considered controlling a platform and favoring owned content, then we are all guilty.

 

 

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