Yelp Says Google Games Searches To Favor Its Own Content
A study led and funded by Google competitor Yelp says that the search giant is promoting its own content when generating universal search results. By showing results that are different than what would be produced through a purely organic search, Google is "leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches," according to the study.
Published Monday, the study -- titled "Is Google degrading search? Consumer Harm from Universal Search" -- was conducted by members of Yelp's data science team. Also contributing to the research were Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, and Michael Luca, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.
The timing of the study's release isn't good for Google, as the company is currently facing a complaint by the European Commission that its search results give an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service over those of its competitors. Google's deadline to respond to that complaint has been extended until August 17.
Degraded Search 'Harms Google's Users'
Yelp's study observed the behavior of 2,690 Internet users and found that people were 45 percent more likely to engage with universal search results when those results were varied to ensure the content produced was organically generated. By contrast, "Google's current policy of favorable treatment of Google content to results in which external content is displayed" is reducing the value and utility of its results for users, the researchers said.
Launched in 2007, Google's universal search feature blends content from other sources such as Images, Maps, Books, Video and News with the organic results produced by a Web search. Google described universal search as its attempt to "break down the walls that traditionally separated our various search properties and integrate the vast amounts of information available into one simple set of search results."
The authors of Yelp's study said that by its nature, universal search was a form of self-dealing that excluded competitors in specialized search. "Our results provide empirical evidence that universal search has in some situations been deployed in a manner that degrades the search product and harms Google's users," they said. "Such conduct therefore cannot be described as pro-competitive."
'Artificially Boosted' Shopping Presence
That assessment is likely to raise new concerns for Google in the face of the current investigation by the European Commission. European officials launched their investigation into Google's search practices in 2010. Earlier this year, they also set in motion a separate antitrust action regarding Google's practices for its Android mobile operating system.
Shortly after that new investigation was launched, European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said in a speech in Washington, D.C., "Google has had market shares of more than 90 percent in general Internet search in most EU Member States for many years. Dominance is, as such, not a problem under EU competition law. However, dominant companies have a responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in neighboring markets."
Vestager noted that the commercial importance of appearing prominently in Google's general search results was obvious. She said she was concerned that Google had artificially boosted its presence in the comparison shopping market, which meant that consumers may not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to their search queries. "[A]nd Google's competitors may not get the commercial opportunities that their innovations deserve," she added.
Google has made previous attempts to settle the complaints over its shopping search, but those efforts raised objections by competitors that included Microsoft and Yelp.
Image credit: Google; Artist's concept.
Posted: 2015-07-02 @ 10:06am PT
Recently Zacks published that Yelp is selling ads for 1000x the rate that Google charges. With Yelp, a business pays $600 for 60 cents in advertising. Is Yelp angry that Google does not show its listings so it can overcharge small businesses for advertising? Perhaps Yelp should clean up its own act before pointing fingers at others.