At ACT, we just came across a video clip, highlighted a while back by Ben Edelman, that lends remarkable insight into Google’s policy to give the highest search ranking to its own properties. They do this simply because they own the search engine. Google’s Marissa Mayer, one of the company’s first 20 employees who is described in the video as “responsible for all product management related activities for Google search,” explains it this way:
When we rolled out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first. It seems only fair, right? We do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first. That’s actually been a policy, then, because of Finance we implemented it in other places. So for Google Maps, again, it’s the first link.
This point is very instructive because it is an admission by Google of how it used its search dominance to give Google Maps the highest search ranking, before it ever earned any pageviews, at the expense of its competitor Mapquest. Typically, the highest ranked results get three-and-a-half times as many clicks than number two, and almost as many as all the other search results combined. This is how Google was able to redirect traffic from Mapquest to its own property, and take over its market share.
It is this experience that has many expressing concern over the Google-ITA merger. Google search results provide 30% of all the traffic to travel websites and much more when you include its advertising properties. With 70% of the search market and 83% of the search advertising market, and a history of favoring its own sites, what will be left for the competition when Google enters the online travel business?
If recent history is any guide, Google will continue to leverage its online search and advertising monopoly to squeeze out competition. Take the example of TripAdvisor.com. This travel review website has been sounding the alarm for months that Google has been stealing its content and publishing it on Google’s own local search properties. TripAdvisor has repeatedly asked Google to stop taking its content, and for its efforts has suffered a 23% dip in traffic referred from Google.
Now Google has taken an even more insidious step. According to TripAdvisor CEO, Stephen Kaufer, the search giant recently explained to him that he could ensure his content would not be swiped and repurposed under a Google banner if he would simply “make tweaks to his site so that the reviews would be invisible to the search engine.”
See what this means? If you don’t want Google to steal your content to bolster its service that competes with yours, be prepared for Google to exclude your company from its search results. Oh, and the onus is on you to change your site so Google won’t keep from stealing from you.
This has Mr. Kaufer very worried about the future of his company. Anyone who values an internet that protects and rewards innovation should be worried too.
The Department of Justice should be very mindful of the search giant’s previous actions against MapQuest, and its current actions against TripAdvisor, before it considers a merger that would cede dominance of the online travel industry to Google.