Google’s announcement that search results will now more prominently feature posts from its Google+ social network (over information from Facebook, Twitter and others) is raising eyebrows across the web. And rightly so.
According to reports, the feature will automatically be turned on beginning Tuesday for all English-language searches made by users logged into Google. Users who don’t want to see “personalized” results will have to proactively opt-out. MG Siegler, a lead blogger at TechCrunch and investor at early stage venture capital fund CrunchBase commented on his blog: “Google is using Search to propel their social network… Given that it’s opt-out, I’m just not sure that this is all that different from Microsoft bundling IE with Windows.” James Grimmelmann, an associate professor at New York Law School noted that Google was “trying to prop up a not very great social network by roping it to a search engine.”
Aside from “bundling” and “roping,” what does Google’s announcement mean?
Google is inserting Google+ results ahead of other, more relevant, results.
“Google’s really just making Google+ Search one of its Universal Search sources,” notes SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan. Universal Search, of course, is Google’s policy of automatically placing its own products and services ahead of natural algorithmic results – a practice that has given Google a tremendous advantage over competitors in vertical search categories like maps, video and shopping. Describing the troubling extent to which Google+ results are being elevated, Sullivan writes:
“See how a search for New York Times used to bring up a link directly to the New York Times within the search box? That seems to have quietly disappeared.
“Now something similar is turning up, something so tied to only Google+ that you can bet some of Google’s anti-trust critics are going to have a field day saying the company is pushing itself unfairly. And that’s a valid criticism.”
Google’s leveraging its dominance in general search to expand into social search.
So what is Google’s angle this time? As Mashable asks, “Is this the big lever Google needed propel the Google+ social platform forward and past rivals like Facebook and Twitter?”
Well, that’s certainly part of it. And it wouldn’t be the first time Google used its search monopoly power in search to get a leg up over its competitors in more specialized search.
Google’s behavior will drive advertising dollars back to Google, since it will be increasingly harder for brands to appear in the “organic” results.
But the Financial Times points to what may be an even bigger incentive – advertising profits, in its reporting:
“Making search more personalised, meanwhile, could make it harder for brand owners to use search engine optimisation techniques to ensure their pages appear at the top of ‘organic’ or natural results for particular keywords, some experts warned.
“As a result, advertisers are likely to switch some their marketing spending away from optimisation, said Stefan Bardega, managing partner at MediaCom, WPP’s media agency. ‘All of this pours more money into the core business of Google, which is the pay-per-click AdWords model. It will become almost impossible to get the same level of effectiveness in organic results,’ he said.”
The result for users? Google keeps you in its web longer.
TheNextWeb gets to the heart of what this means for consumers:
“More than an email provider, Google is progressively trying to become our englobing online environment. The appeal of this integration for Google is pretty obvious: better targeting, hence better ads. But what about users? Do we want our friends to follow us everywhere we go, even in places as intimate as search?”
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as one Google exec said: “We don’t monetize the thing we create…We monetize the people that use it. The more people use our products, the more opportunity we have to advertise to them.”
All in all, what’s the ultimate impact on consumers? More advertising dollars funneled into Google’s pockets mean companies of all sizes have less to invest in innovation, new jobs in America, and free or low-cost services online.