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Google's Second Click Conflict Dominates SES Panel Today

By - March 18, 2008

Gooog Finance

At SES, while I was on a panel about universal search, Comscore today released some really interesting data. We spent the rest of the hour debating the meaning of if all. It was like getting muffins straight from the oven – no one has seen it, not even the product manager of universal search at Google, whose service the data analyzed.

You can find in the moment coverage of the news here. What I found fascinating about this – not just the data, but the chance to really think about universal search – is the age-old conflict that Google faces between being a pure navigation service – “We get you where you want to go” – and being a media company – “We get you to our properties, where we make more money if you stay.”

This conflict is very real, urgent, and present.

To pretend otherwise is to ignore the reality of YouTube, Google News, Google Maps, Google Local, the onebox interface, Knol, and everything else Google owns that represent the chance for them to make money the way every other media company in the world makes money – by competing for your attention and monetizing it with advertising. (I’ve been on about this for some time).

Google’s brand promise – to be neutral, to be above monetary interest – is in conflict with, well, the rest of Google’s brand promise, to be a superstar stock, to grow faster than any company in the history of the world. And all of that is in conflict with …. Google’s brand promise, to get consumers to the best answer, fastest, regardless of who owns the content. Because…sometimes, that content is now owned by Google. But how to prove that those neutral algorithms picked Google above all else, while avoiding the appearance of conflict?

Universal search interfaces break the ten year stranglehold of ten blue links and surface new media types – images, data sets (like stocks, weather, etc.), videos. In doing so, they also break the conformity of SEO – search engine optimization – and lay bare Google’s own editorial choices. Why when you search for stocks does Google Finance come first? Let’s be honest here. It’s not because some neutral algorithm chose Google Finance. It’s because Google owns that data. Google’s representative admitted as much on our panel today.

And, given that, can one reasonably ask why, according to Comscore’s data, the preponderance of results that come up in Google’s universal search are YouTube? Might it be because they are they best results? Sure. Might it also be because Google owns YouTube, which is madly trying to monetize the second, third, and fourth click with new models that it hopes to heck are going to pay off?

Sure. Yahoo’s been doing this for a long time. But then, Yahoo’s a media company, init? As I wrote in 2005:



“With its shortcuts Yahoo makes no pretense of objectivity—it

is clearly steering searchers toward its own editorial services, which

it believes can satisfy the intent of the search. In effect, Yahoo is

saying “You’re looking for stuff on Usher? We got stuff on Usher,

and it’s good stuff. Try what we suggest; we think it’ll be worth

your time.”

Apparent in that sentiment lies a key distinction between

Google and Yahoo. Yahoo is far more willing to have overt editorial

and commercial agendas, and to let humans intervene in search results

so as to create media that supports those agendas. Google, on

the other hand, is repelled by the idea of becoming a content- or editorially

driven company. While both companies can ostensibly lay

claim to the mission of “organizing the world’s information and

making it accessible” (though only Google actually claims that line

as its mission), they approach the task with vastly different stances.” (The Search, page 239-240)

At least, that used to be the difference between Google and Yahoo.

Google is in new and uncharted ground here. And mark my words, it won’t be easy for the company to navigate. But then, we knew that, right?


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31 thoughts on “Google's Second Click Conflict Dominates SES Panel Today

  1. Eric Goldman says:

    This is a little odd. I thought we had concluded that Google is/was a media company years ago. But even if Google is a search engine and not a destination, does it really make that much of a difference if it’s referring searchers out to websites that participate in Google AdSense? Eric.

  2. How can google remain neutral when they have a vested interest? Google designs the algorithms and will maximize there sites and rank to produce profits. When folks discuss google they state “organizing the world’s information and
    making it accessible” they forget that google and yahoo are about making money.

  3. 3/4 months after Ask launched Ask 3D, they released stats on how sticky their site had become – they said that was fine, because their focus was no longer getting the customer off to the engines pages and onto a relevant site. But had now become about *increased* relevancy and *quality* of results. They were putting the searcher before the quick buck!

    I’m sure the stats said that they saw a drop 40% in direct clicks due to the binocular addition alone (thats stat is from memory so may be wrong).

    I always thought the day would come when SE’s would start to adopt the same kind of mental attitude as regular consumer websites have had from day one.

    I’ve read a transcript of the Orion panel – it read brilliantly and I’m sorry i missed it! Anyone got a vid-cast of it by chance?

    My 2c.

  4. I think it is a legitimate problem, however it seems the customers dont care about yet. This is the old marketing question of “good enough”. If a YouTube video is shown for a query what is good enough, the searcher does not care that this result is there because it is in Google network or not.
    So it makes their search less reliable, but amazingly nobody cares.

  5. Perry says:

    It’s great to see this issue being exposed more for conversation, John. It really is surprising to me that Google is taking this level of risk (albeit small as of today in the grand scheme) to the ONE THING above all others that got them where they are.

    To the mass market, Google’s SERP experience is their core identity. The deep ruts they have caved into this road must be maddening to their creative spirit and invention hunger. You call this the second click, I’ve called it the “third page of search” battle – both concepts are the same, but Google’s identity and user experience ruts are carved deeply, and consumers are creatures of habit above all else. (I like third page because I think of this as driving the derivative user experience as you proceed down the user intent path, a multi-phase process which demands unique vertical experiences for maximum consumer value).

    I do believe Google is messing with their core identity and when this is shaken – as it should be with these “antics” – there is a risk, a crack in the armor – alas, an opening! I call it antics because it is happening on top of the consumer’s naive and implicit trust which up until recently has been well earned.

    What is surprising to me is that in many cases, the quality of results and (not to be underplayed) user experience is a very poor substitution for the quality of what a user can get on “third page sites” – vertical, local, topical web sites where the user can be freed of the plain vanilla wrapper that Google’s success has forced it to honor.

    I recently had Google put their “Vehicle Search” in front of all other results and tried it out. Frankly it was sad to see the results. While “technically” it presented a good matrix of makes, models, location search, it was such a starkly anemic user experience when compared with a half dozen known destination sites which combine deep content and user community. Consumers will see this, and they will start to build skepticism into their evaluation of Google’s SERP quality.

    It’s a great flag to raise, and it’s a very meaty topic for discussion. Well done!

  6. Adam Edwards says:

    I definitely concur. I am surprised more wasn’t made of Google’s deal with the AP to host articles on ap.google.com. I blogged about it last year but people seem to forget about it.

  7. Luis Pereira says:

    Nice article. I believe that more and more Google is trying to become a destination site. The winners will be advertisers and Google, and the losers will be content providers and the SEO industry.

  8. saran says:

    media companies waked up? if so thats 3 year delay. and there is a sleeping tiger (google reader) that no one cares much.

  9. i think the YouTube results are partially a matter of them being (by far) the dominant video site in terms of content and traffic. the videos would probably rank highly without any google intervention due to their sheer number of inbound links from high PR sites.

    the other points are valid, HOWEVER, if google provides a better product/service then the user won’t care if the google product is ranked first. in fact they would probably prefer it. think google maps.

  10. JG says:

    This conflict is very real, urgent, and present.

    It is, and it actually has been since 1999.

    Forget about Knol, YouTube, etc. This is true even for something as simple as AdWords. Advertising-based monetization has always stood in the way of Google’s core mission.

    I know this is like the sixth time I’ve written about this in Battelle’s comments section over the past two+ years, so I won’t rehash everything that I’ve said. I’ll just requote some of my prior comments:

    …in 1999ish, whenever it was that Google started showing their first AdWords ad, I wrote to Google and told them that I would pay them a monthly subscription if they would just keep their site ad free. I think ads lock you into a certain innovation model that is difficult to break out of. You cannot introduce new features that interfere with the ads, or you shoot yourself in the foot. On the other hand, if Google had been supported by subscriptions since 1999, their monetary impetus would be coming from the users, the subscribers, rather than the advertisers. There would be a lot more willingness to try new things, because you at least would not have the advertiser component of the current lock-in. http://battellemedia.com/archives/003933.php#comment_123859

    and

    …back around the turn of the decade, when Google started showing its first ads, I wrote them an email, offering to pay a monthly subscription fee if they would just keep their site ad free. I had agreed with them from the very beginning that search and advertising are mutually incompatible. Even if there is no direct ranking influence, the fact that real estate is being taken up on the SERPs page by ads means that you have no more real estate for integrating known search enhancement techniques into the system. Especially if you want to keep that famous “clean” and “uncluttered” interface. There will necessarily have to be a trade-off. http://battellemedia.com/archives/003254.php#comment_119323

  11. Prefabrik says:

    Google had been supported by subscriptions since 1999, their monetary impetus would be coming from the users, the subscribers, rather than the advertisers. Signature Prefabrik

  12. The model is and has been in conflict for some time. Google single-handedly gave rise to scraper and button pusher sites through their adsense program and these have, in turn, been polluting the SERPs for years. That is a direct conflict (i.e working to improve search quality while funding the rise of low quality sites). Look at their domain parking program and ask if this is really improving the lot of users….

  13. michael88 says:

    Interesting that a query for “stocks” now comes up with Yahoo! Finance

  14. I have been still thinking on the matter. Maybe, Google will improve youtube much like Warren Buffet has improved each company Berkshire Hathaway has acquired.

  15. nmw says:

    Publishers should take note: Google and Yahoo (Buzz) are watching you! ;P

    However: What is “publishing” — am I publishing now? Is this a “publication”? Why or why not?

    Does Yahoo have 250 million users? Do I care which of them vote for / against a news headline?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3rT9i6XNzQ

    :D nmw

  16. Boomer says:

    does Google monetize content on Google News like you infer? Doesnt seem so

  17. Aha, that was you they were interviewing right after that session….

    You ran down the escalators so fast – where on earth were you headed to

    http://pichostonline.com/u/080320/9d4722c11c.jpg

  18. Omar Khan says:

    This is a very salient point, and connected to the larger one of how Google’s index is not just searching the web, but building the visible web. Many sites get half their traffic from Google, so central has search become to getting somewhere online. By selecting sites to get traffic – its own or others like Wikipedia which are privileged by its algorithm – it is deciding who the winners or losers are. There cannot but be all sorts of conflicts here, and I think that like Yahoo, Google will slowly dilute its brand through the practices you point out, creating the space for new entrants. I think users want neutrality at the point of search, and don’t want their intentions hijacked by the algorithm.

  19. ARTI AJANS says:

    Google put their “Vehicle Search” in front of all other results and tried it out. Frankly it was sad to see the results. While “technically” it presented a good matrix of makes, models, location search, it was such a starkly anemic user experience when compared with a half dozen known destination sites which combine deep content and user community. Consumers will see this, and they will start to build skepticism into their evaluation of Google’s SERP quality

  20. and this can only get much, much worse as Google Knol grows.

  21. The model is and has been in conflict for some time. Google single-handedly gave rise to scraper and button pusher sites through their adsense program and these have, in turn, been polluting the SERPs for years. That is a direct conflict (i.e working to improve search quality while funding the rise of low quality sites). Look at their domain parking program and ask if this is really improving the lot of users….

  22. Ahmet Ali says:

    i think the YouTube results are partially a matter of them being (by far) the dominant video site in terms of content and traffic. the videos would probably rank highly without any google intervention due to their sheer number of inbound links from high PR sites.

    the other points are valid, HOWEVER, if google provides a better product/service then the user won’t care if the google product is ranked first. in fact they would probably prefer it. think google maps.

  23. ahmet says:

    The model is and has been in conflict for some time. Google single-handedly gave rise to scraper and button pusher sites through their adsense program and these have, in turn, been polluting the SERPs for years. That is a direct conflict (i.e working to improve search quality while funding the rise of low quality sites). Look at their domain parking program and ask if this is really improving the lot of users.

  24. Indeed, as Eric says, we already knew it years ago. What you wrote in The Search on this subject was essentially the pro-Google approach that didn’t delve into the objective pressures facing a much larger, diversified, public company especially after a diverse group of managers and product developers join the early core group (some of whom are leaving).

    Google and Yahoo are on a relative par here. They will be conscientious about supporting the third-party ecosystem because not to do so will be to hurt themselves and their users. However they are also both prone to erring in judgment on this front.

  25. Charlie says:

    The “TOP 10″ on Google’s search results are gone. That’s what Google wants I think… More money for them without a doubt. So, SEO’s like myself are fighting with some “big monster” right now, trying to get people (customers) convince about the Google Power on the second page…which is not true.
    I don’t know but Google must check this strategy on the near future or people can get tired of them. I love the way how Google show this Universal Search on the “Left Navigation” experimental website. Maybe they should take this online SOON…

  26. Jose says:

    Dear readers,

    Google is a company in the stock market and naturaly with stock holders who want profits.
    To present the vast amount of services that it does today and pretends to do in the future, Google needs money.
    For that they need to think about their strategy and keep making the needed changes.
    If their search engine is 100% neutral or not, we must agree that he gives good results and IF sometimes the results pend to a “certain direction”, we must understand that it’s a minor “must be”.
    I believe that there are “monopolies” in this world that are far worst.

    José

  27. Grup Hepsi says:

    Google and Yahoo are on a relative par here. They will be conscientious about supporting the third-party ecosystem because not to do so will be to hurt themselves and their users. However they are also both prone to erring in judgment on this front.

  28. canlı tv says:

    Google had been supported by subscriptions since 1999, their monetary impetus would be coming from the users, the subscribers, rather than the advertisers.

  29. This strategy will soon become a major legal liability for Google.

    It wont be long before they are accused on anti-competitive behavior and labeled “monopolists”. It’s US Gov vs Microsoft all over again and the outcome will be the separation or decoupling of search from Google’s media business.

    Oh and a couple billion dollars fine.

    Dont be evil….is starting to remind me of the self rightousness of Elliot Spitzer

    -MC

  30. Chris Gale says:

    “Why when you search for stocks does Google Finance come first? Let’s be honest here. It’s not because some neutral algorithm chose Google Finance. It’s because Google owns that data. Google’s representative admitted as much on our panel today.”

    John, you usually
    are very good with your facts but you missed on this one…  Yahoo
    comes up first when you search for Stocks on Google, and that’s because users
    PREFER Yahoo’s pages to Google’s.  The
    same thing happens when you search for “stocks.” I think that your point is an excellent
    one, however it proves wrong the premise of this blog
    posting.

    I agree with your concerns, however everything that
    Google has done to date has remained true to their main operating premise

    “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it
    universally accessible and useful.”

     

  31. Chad says:

    Chris Gale and michael88, you misread John’s statement and you didn’t look at the image at the top of the post. John didn’t say “when you search for ‘stocks'” — he said “when you search for stocks”. Look at the image at the top of the post again and notice that when you put in a ticker symbol, Google Finance is the first listed link in the stock quote summary.
    The fact that Yahoo Finance comes up first for the query “stocks” in fact reinforces John’s point: Google has put their finance site as the first link in stock quote summaries even though the voice of the Web clearly says that Yahoo Finance is the preferred destination for stock information.