The Wall Street Journal
by AMIR EFRATI
December 12, 2010
Google Inc. increasingly is promoting some of its own content over that of rival websites when users perform an online search, prompting competing sites to cry foul.
The Internet giant is displaying links to its own services-such as local-business information or its Google Health service-above the links to other, non-Google content found by its search engine.
Google, which is developing more content or specialized-search sites in hopes of boosting ad revenue, says that prominently displaying links to them is more useful to Web searchers than just displaying links to sites that rank highly in its search system. But the moves mean Google increasingly is at odds with websites that rely on the search engine for visitors.
Those companies say their links are being pushed lower on the results page to make room for the Google sites. Critics include executives at travel site TripAdvisor.com, health site WebMD.com and local-business reviews sites Yelp.com and Citysearch.com, among others.
"There is no denying that today Google is competing [with many websites] for the same Web traffic and the same advertising dollars," said Jay Herratti, chief executive of CityGrid Media, a unit of IAC/InterActiveCorp. that owns Citysearch and sister sites Urbanspoon.com and InsiderPages.com.
Mr. Herratti said he believes Google's moves are hurting the growth of his sites, though adds it is hard to measure the impact.
TripAdvisor LLC Chief Executive Stephen Kaufer said the traffic his site gets from Google's search engine dropped by more than 10%, on a seasonally adjusted basis, since mid-October-just before Google announced the latest change to the way its search engine shows information about local businesses. TripAdvisor.com, whose top source of traffic is Google, reviews hotels and other businesses frequented by travelers.
"Google does seem to be chasing us and I don't like it one bit," said Mr. Kaufer, adding that he has been negotiating with Google for about two months to try to improve his situation.
"We built Google for users, not websites, and our goal is to give users answers," a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. "Sometimes the most useful answer isn't '10 blue links,' but a map for an address query, or a series of images for a query like 'pictures of Egyptian pyramids.' We often provide these results in the form of 'quick answers' at the top of the page, because our users want a quick answer."
She declined to comment on any specific criticisms or any discussions with other websites.
The complaints underscore how crucial Google searches are to virtually every business online, and the increasingly close scrutiny of how Google operates. In November, the European Union's top antitrust authority said it began a formal inquiry into whether Google manipulates its search results to disadvantage competing Web services, or give preferential placement to Google's own services.
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