Today I will be discussing the WWW of Google’s anti-trust hearing: the Who, Why, and Where. Is Google serving consumers? Or threatening healthy competition?
Who: Google (represented by executive chairman Eric Schmidt) vs. Nextag, Yelp, and the U.S. Senate.
What: The main issue being investigated in the antitrust hearing is whether Google is abusing its dominance in search by displaying its own sites ahead of (or instead of) competitors’ sites (Search Engine Journal), and effectively an anti-competitive monopoly in the world of search.
Why: The central arguments being brought forth by Yelp and Nextag is the concern that their sites are being unfairly replaced or used for the benefit of Google’s services.
In the case of Yelp, Google Places had been posting snippets of reviews on local business pages in 2010 – without Yelp’s permission. When asked if these could be removed Google gave the option of leaving reviews or becoming completely un-indexed from the results pages, thereby preventing Yelp from appearing anywhere in web results.
Nextag’s argument focused around the fact that Google’s shopping results are placed near the top (specifically, third, according to Senator Michael Lee) of product shopping results, and that they are biasing
Essentially, these companies (among others) are looking for more transparency from Google and to “level the playing field” and address the concerns of competitors voluntarily and adequately (i.e., not giving Yelp a “false choice”) (Search Engine Journal)
Google’s response to Yelp’s complaint that their Places Pages are taking traffic from small business and other review sites was that most of the click traffic (roughly two-thirds of clicks) from local search result pages goes directly to small business websites, review sites make up the next largest percentage (about a quarter of clicks), and less than 10% of clicks from local results page go to Google Place Pages. (Google Blog)
In response to Nextag, Google stated that they are simply offering consumers the best possible experience online, with testing pointing towards a preference to shopping results. (Google Blog)
Where to follow: I’m finding Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal to have some of the best coverage in the SEO news space. There’s also information on RRW and Mashable, though less widely covered.
You can also find Google’s positions on their blog, with posts on Responses to Senate Hearing Witness Claims and A Guide to the Senate Judiciary Hearing. Obviously, these sources are biased to favor Google, but they do help complete the arguments given.