It’s not often I feel pity for Google. In fact, pity is one of the emotions I most rarely associate with Google. But sometimes I do feel a twinge of pity for their engineers and decision makers, because no matter what they do they’ll always be screwed.
Take for example the travel industry. In a lengthy and heart-felt open letter, the owner of a small tourism company admonishes Google for pushing SMEs out of business by allowing Google search to be dominated by big brand aggregators:
In its simplest form, it means the big bags of money control the opportunity not the product. You can’t necessarily find the right product anymore, you find what they want you to find. Google just facilitated the demise of countless businesses by search prominence on the main avenue to commerce. It sounds like supermarkets all over again, except it’s worse. I have to drive to a supermarket, but can see the other shops on the way, who interestingly are having a comeback for all these reasons.
This situation is of course the inevitable end result of the manipulation of Google’s organic search algorithms. If a system can be manipulated for profit, inevitably it will be dominated by big companies who can afford to spend the most effort on manipulation. This is true for financial systems and commodities markets, as much as it is for Google’s search algos.
The only way Google can level the playing field is to make their search algorithms smart enough to give SMEs the same authority as big brand websites, so that they can rank high for relevant searches.
Google has been unable to do this, so they do the next best thing: they give small businesses an artificial leg up by introducing a Google-powered element of the SERPs that allows SMEs to claim some visibility on a relevant search result.
This effort was called Google Local – since then renamed a few times, most recently called Google Places until a few weeks ago when the latest label has been slapped on it: Google My Business.
The trouble with that is that it pissed off the big brand aggregators. Because it’s a Google-powered system that now pushes the aggregator websites down the search results, these big aggregators feel Google is cheating and rigging the game in its own favour.
So the big brands combine forces, form lobby groups like FairSearch.org, and convince antitrust regulators that Google needs to be muzzled and controlled.
Google simply can’t win. Either they do their best to give small businesses an advantage in search, and piss off the big brand aggregators, or they give in to the big brands (and the Pigeon update certainly seems to indicate that) and the small business owners are left behind.
Either way, Google gets all the flak and none of the credit.
I only feel a tiny bit sorry for Google though. Because after all, despite this hassle, they do seem to be doing just fine.