A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Google’s Influence in Search and Beyond

Friday, December 9th, 2011

SEOBook’s contention that Google is killing the long tail of search is a pretty fascinating look at Google’s unique and powerful position, and just how much influence it wields in ways that go largely unnoticed by average web users.

(The long tail refers to the large collection of low-volume search terms that can be profitably used to generate highly targeted leads in SEO efforts.)

What’s most interesting here is the way Google, according to the authors, manipulates the results we see when we search by

  • Autocorrecting search spelling
  • Favoring local search results
  • Favoring Google properties like YouTube
  • Penalizing “mechanical” factors like the number of pages on a site or the freshness of content

Now, one man’s “manipulation” is another man’s optimization, and I’m sure Google would argue that it sets its algorithms to return the best results possible for the person searching.

But more than once I’ve seen Google referred to as “that nice little advertising company that does search on the side” or some similar variation. Search isn’t exactly a hobby for Google, but if you think Google’s goal is really to serve you, I’ve got one question for you: do you want to buy a bridge?

OK, two questions: do you want the bridge, and how much do you pay Google to conduct all those searches you run? Exactly. You’re not paying, which means you’re not their customer. You’re their product – and you’re their research subject. They sell advertising, and their goal is to sell as much of it as possible. The  information you provide them when you use their services helps them do that.

I can’t think of a company that has ever wielded as much power over a major form of communication as Google wields over the web. So far, I don’t think it’s fair to say they’ve ever been evil. (Self-interested, yes. But not evil.)

But at some point, I think either temptation gets the better of them or a competitor starts whispering in legislative ears that they hold too much power.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. If the government steps in we can pretty well guarantee disastrous results.

Then again, it may not ever get that far. It’s quite possible – probably even – that  new technologies are unleashed and search becomes decentralized and democratized to a point that there is no one enormous gatekeeper. Did I say probable? I wouldn’t go shorting Google stock just yet, any more than I’d recommend you buying that bridge.

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