Over the past 13 years, Google has built itself up from a small search engine striving to give people the best results from around the web into a search giant whose company name is now an official verb according to Webster’s Dictionary. As they have grown, just like with other growing companies, acquisitions have been made along the way. As they have acquired different companies, their search results have evolved and changed. Now, many of the companies that compete in smaller niches are crying foul. Has Google become too large? Are they a monopolistic company who holds the fate of smaller companies in their hands?
Google is currently being looked at by the Federal Trade Commission in Antitrust hearings in Washington. Several company executives, including Eric Schmidt from Google and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, have testified, giving differing opinions, as both companies have a lot at stake in the hearings. Yelp has been battling Google regarding local reviews for a good part of the last 7 years. They claim that Google is giving emphasis to their own products, particularly their Google Places listings which also contain reviews for local small businesses. Yelp is claiming that this product, which previously contained data from Yelp’s web site but no longer does, gives Google an unfair advantage.
Google relies on a massive algorithm to organize their search results, and they maintain that this algorithm does not bias results toward Google products. They want to provide the best results possible to users, and claim that the minute they stop doing that, users will find someone else that will. It is that sense of urgency that Google utilizes to strive to be the best. The company’s search algorithm is under almost constant change, with upwards of 500 updates made last year. Some of those were small, while others were quite large like their “Panda” update in March. All of these are designed to continually improve search results for users.
The outcome of this trial will be closely followed by all of us in the SEO community; and even closer by those who compete directly with Google services. The outcome could have a major impact on how search results are displayed on the first page of Google if Google is forced to change how or where they display Google-places, Google-products or any of their own business units that compete with natural indexed content. It is too soon to know if Google will be forced to change or if they will change on their own accord. Or if Google’s lobby is strong enough to maintain the status quo.