Is 'Search Plus Your World' anti-competitive?
I know what you're thinking, not another 'Search Plus Your World' article! It's true that that the blogosphere has become over saturated with commentators analysing the update from every angle you could possible think of. Is it a positive move? Is it anti-competitive? Is it an attempt to get Facebook investigated for privacy violations? Is it damaging SEO? Is it improving SEO? Should more brands adopt Google Plus profile pages? Somewhere, all these topics and more will have been covered, but I'd like to go into more detail about the anti-competitive allegations that have been thrust at Google.
There are two main points that these allegations focus on; the Google+ profiles listed in the Google search drop downs, and the additional Google+ People and Pages that are suggested when certain terms are searched for (see the images below).
The top image above shows how Google+ profiles are appearing directly in Google's drop down suggestions. This happens for celebrities, friends and bloggers with a profile on Google+ when their name is entered in the search bar. In the example above, which was highlighted in the Google blog post announcing SPYW, we can see that Trey Ratcliff's Google+ profile is suggested to me despite him not being a pre-existing connection. The problem, as many have pointed out, is that if Google+ is listed, why aren't Facebook and Twitter? They are, after all, more established social networks, and there's a good chance that they contain more information about the person being searched for than a G+ profile. Google are all about providing quality to its users, so surely if a search is conducted with obvious social intent, then Facebook and Twitter profiles should be suggested with as much visibility as a G+ profile. Trey Ratcliff, the person in the example from the image, does have a Facebook and a Twitter account, so is it not anti-competitive of Google to promote their own social network as a suggestion in the drop down without suggesting Facebook and Twitter?
In search, Google have developed their market share naturally overtime through consistently providing the best user experience, and the most relevant and reliable search results. For this reason, they can often shrug off the allegations of anti-competitive behaviour aimed at them by those who might feel their domination of the search engine market place is damaging user experience. More significant problems arise when they begin using that position of superiority to start leveraging products that are peripheral to search; Google+ is one of these products. Because of the way Google+ received advertising directly on Google's homepage, and the way it is now being integrated into the SERPs, there is a good case that the search giant is unfairly favouring Google content over non-Google content. This seems to be reinforced by the 'People and Pages on Google+' suggestions.
The same allegations have been made about the 'People and Pages on Google+' suggestions. If we look at the image above, we can see the people and pages that are suggested when a search for 'music' is conducted. Imagine if you are a brand or do social media marketing for a brand, and you see these profile pages listed for searches. Naturally, you will see this as an opportunity and immediately begin focusing on optimising your Google+ business page to get your brand listed there for relevant searches. This might also mean that you take some of the focus from your Facebook and Twitter marketing campaigns, and potentially, this could be hugely damaging to the business models of them both because they might lose the investment or support from key advertisers. Why aren't the Facebook or Twitter profiles of Britney Spears or Snoop Dogg also suggested, because potentially they will have more value for me as a searcher. There are other ways these suggestions impact searcher experience, for example, if I conduct a search for 'Facebook', it will be suggested that I add Mark Zuckerberg to my connections on Google+:
The thing is, Mark Zuckerberg has never shared any content on Google Plus, nor does his profile have any information about him, or about Facebook. In what way is Mark Zuckerberg's empty profile relevant to me, as a searcher, looking for information about Facebook, and why is it given such a prominent position in the SERPs? Surely it would offer a much better user experience if his Facebook account was listed there instead, because this provides lots of valuable information.
From my experience then, these criticisms of 'Search Plus Your World' being anti-competitive are justified, but perhaps the more noteworthy observation is that, on occasion, my experience as a searcher is negatively impacted by this update. The Zuckerberg instance above being a prime example. Before you tell me that personalised search can be turned off at the click of the button, I'd like to point out that these suggestions remain even when personalised search is disabled. That means someone with no Google affiliation, with no prior Google search history, or even someone with cookies disabled, will have Mark Zuckerberg's empty G+ profile suggested to them when they search for 'Facebook'. This seems like Google are blatantly promoting their own content, or products while sacrificing user experience.
Do Google have a counter-argument?
Of course they do! This is Google, after all. In an interview with Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan after his appearance at CES 2012, Eric Schmidt discussed some of the allegations being put forth.
In case you haven't got time to watch the video, Google's argument is, essentially, that Facebook and Twitter haven't given them the permission they need to crawl and display that kind of profile information. However, they would be happy to 'sit down and have a conversation' with the companies in an attempt to reach some kind of agreement. This has been disputed by the search engine optimisation community because of the fact that Facebook and Twitter profiles can appear in the organic SERPs, and therefore there should be no reason why they can't be given the same prevalence as G+ profiles in the SERPs. However, I wouldn't want to comment on this too much as their might be a genuine legal reason why other social networking profiles aren't appearing with the Google+ profiles.
Already there are blogs cropping up with titles like "Why Every Marketer Needs a Google+ Strategy", "Why Google+ is an Inevitable Part of Your Content Marketing Strategy" and hundreds of other blogs along the same lines. Do you think words like 'inevitable' and 'need' could have been applied to Google+ before the Search Plus Your World update, or are other SEOs just threatened by Google's bold strategy? I'd really like to hear your thoughts on the matter, so please feel free to comment.
This blog was written over 6 months ago and Internet Marketing and SEO is an always changing industry which means the information within this blog may be out of date. Use caution when using any methods or suggestions within it.