Wall Street Journal
by AMIR EFRATI
July 23, 2011
Google Inc. has made changes to the way its search engine displays information about local businesses, a move that follows the disclosure of a U.S. antitrust investigation of its business practices.
The company said it removed snippets of customer reviews that were taken from other Web firms for its Google "Places" service, which has millions of pages for local businesses. Google's practices have drawn fire from some of those Web companies, and is believed to be among the issues the Federal Trade Commission is investigating.
Since last year, TripAdvisor, Yelp and Citysearch—sites with local-business reviews generated by their visitors—have complained Google effectively stole their content and posted it on Google's own pages. Google Places competes with those sites and provides information on millions of restaurants, hotels and other businesses, including store hours, location and photos.
Following Thursday's change, Google Places showed a marked decline in the number of reviews listed for some businesses. For example, Keens Steakhouse in New York displayed 60 reviews Friday, compared with more than 3,000 last month.
While some rivals welcomed the change, they continued to support the antitrust investigation into Google and complained the company still gives preferential placement to Google Places over links to their sites in search results.
Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor's chief executive, said in an interview Friday he will "continue to object to" Google's promotion of Places pages above TripAdvisor and other competitors.
Mr. Kaufer said he has responded to requests for information from the FTC that included questions about the service. He said the agency also asked questions about Google's search-advertising business as well as how Google is "leveraging its dominance as a search engine" to promote other Google services. He didn't elaborate.
Vince Sollitto, a Yelp spokesman, said Google had essentially been building its business on the back of others' efforts. "It's too bad it took an antitrust investigation for them to do something people have been clamoring for for more than a year," he said.
Google, which hasn't been accused of wrongdoing by the FTC, has denied anticompetitive practices while stating that it creates services to benefit users rather than other websites. Copyright lawyers have said Google's use of reviews from other sites could potentially be protected under the so-called fair-use doctrine, which Google has cited as a reason it can excerpt news articles in its Google News service.
Earlier this year, a Google product management director said in an interview that Places helps users reach sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor because each excerpt includes a link to the source of the content. Google wants to "shuttle you to the best sources as quickly as possible," he said.
In its blog post Thursday explaining the changes to Places, Google doesn't mention the FTC investigation, which the company disclosed last month. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday.
"Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we've heard over the past few months, review snippets from other web sources have now been removed from Place pages," wrote Avni Shah, director of product management, in the post.
The company launched Places in April 2010 as an improvement to the prior business listings displayed by its search engine. Besides posting excerpts of reviews from other sites, the service aggregated multiple reviews from Yelp, TripAdvisor and other sites to produce a kind of average review score for individual businesses.
Over the past year, however, Google has been able to get more of its own users to write reviews. Ms. Shah said the service will be changed so that "rating and review counts reflect only those that've been written by fellow Google users."
Google sells some ads on individual Place pages, which creates a connection between the company and merchants around the world.
Links to the pages often appear near the top of the search results page when people search for information on local businesses, in part because they aren't subject to the same Google algorithm that ranks other websites in search results.
Google Places links often are ranked above links to Yelp, TripAdvisor and UrbanSpoon and Citysearch, which are owned by IAC.
Since last year those sites have called on Google to stop posting excerpts of their user-generated reviews and to stop directing Google users to Places rather than their sites. Part of the FTC's antitrust probe of Google involves such complaints by Google's competitors, people familiar with the matter have said.
TripAdvisor's Mr. Kaufer said Google's move Thursday "is a positive sign, but I'd love for them to come out with a statement that 'we promise not to do it again."' He said Google was "stealing our content to create a competitor to TripAdvisor" and other local-business information sites.
Mr. Sollitto, of Yelp, said the alleged preferential ranking that Google gives to its own services, such as Places, continue to "warrant the numerous investigation into Google's practices."
Learn more about Search Engine Optimization, the most effective form of online advertising.
Search Engine Marketing is the fastest growing advertising medium in the world, projected to become 10x more powerful and influential than traditional media outlets such as: network television, cable television, local television, network radio, local radio, satellite radio, national newspapers, local newspapers, magazines, billboards, direct mail, telemarketing and more.
Discover the most powerful and effective form of advertising, Search Engine Optimization.
An aside for consideration are the segments of Search Engine Optimization. Clarification is required in terms of paid search marketing, sponsored search advertising, pay per click, email marketing (spam), and the foundation of strategic internet marketing: Organic Search Engine Optimization - Organic SEO in some circles also referred to as Natural Search Engine Optimization - Natural SEO.
Key Organic Search Engine Optimization Facts:
- Keyword search is the 2nd most popular online activity, rapidly approaching the popularity of email retrieval.
- 90% of all new website visitors are delivered by a major search engine and/or directory.
- 98% of all keyword search activity results are powered by the big 4 search engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL.
- Keyword search results on Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL are all determined by a search engine spider and/or robot crawler.
- Recent internet marketing studies confirm that keyword searchers prefer the organic results at a 6 to 1 ratio vs. pay-per-click sponsored search advertising listings.
Is your corporate website being found early and often on the keywords and keyword phrases that best describe your products, services and industry?
Harness the power that our proven organic search engine optimization technologies can provide...
Contact the Peak Positions Organic SEO consulting specialists today.
Learn more about our client roster, one of the strongest in the SEO industry, and more importantly discover why our client-focused Organic Search Engine Optimization company maintains the highest client retention rate in the SEO industry.
"Our year over year order anniversary flowers revenues are climbing rapidly in a timid economy. If you are looking for an excellent SEO Company, we suggest Peak Positions" ...
SEO Case Study