The Wall Street Journal Blasts Google Search – It’s Friday morning. I am stepping into an Uber from outside of the Google NYC offices after a meeting with Google employees who work directly on Google search, and my phone starts lighting up. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has published a bombshell story named “How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results.”
At first, I thought maybe the Wall Street Journal had uncovered something. But as I read through page after page while being shuttled down the West Side Highway towards my office in West Nyack, New York, I was in disbelief.
Not disbelief over anything Google may have done, but disbelief in how the Wall Street Journal could publish such a scathing story about this when they had absolutely nothing to back it up.
The subtitle of the story read, “The internet giant uses blacklists, algorithm tweaks and an army of contractors to shape what you see.” This line alone shows a lack of understanding on how search works and why the WSJ report on Google got a lot wrong, as my colleague Greg Sterling reported last week.
The truth is, I spoke to a number of these Wall Street Journal reporters back in both March and April about this topic, and it was clear then that they had little knowledge about how search worked. Even a basic understanding of the difference between organic listings (the free search results) and the paid listings (the ads in the search results) eluded them.
They seemed to have one goal: to come up with a sensational story about how Google is abusing its power and responsibility for self gain.
Google is not certainly perfect, but almost everything in the Wall Street Journal report is incorrect.
Just plain wrong
What the Wall Street Journal published to me is either showing how it has a complete lack of understanding of search or even worse — the publication has its own agenda against Google, which honestly makes me sad.
“We have been very public and transparent around the topics covered in this article, such as our Search rater guidelines, our policies for special features in Search like Autocomplete and valid legal removals, our work to combat misinformation through Project Owl, and the fact that the changes we make to Search are aimed at benefiting users, not commercial relationships,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land in response to the Journal’s article.
“This article contains a number of old, incomplete anecdotes, many of which not only predated our current processes and policies but also give a very inaccurate impression of how we approach building and improving Search.
We take a responsible and principled approach to making changes, including a rigorous evaluation process before launching any change — something we started implementing more than a decade ago. Listening to feedback from the public is a critical part of making Search better, and we continue to welcome the feedback.”
The methodology. The Wall Street Journal “tested 17 words and phrases that covered a range of political issues and candidates, cultural phrases and names in the news … during [a] 17-day cycle.” The first issue is that out of the billions of queries Google sees every day, the paper only tested 17! Of those, the paper tested queries that by nature are political and news oriented.
Plus, they only ran this over a 17-day period. During that time, Google could have updated numerous algorithms powering its search engine nearly 50 times.
Interviewed 100s of people. I know they interviewed me a couple of times, and I told you how that went above. But we reached out to Glenn Gabe, an SEO industry veteran who works extensively with companies that have been impacted by search algorithm updates, who was quoted in the piece.
Gabe told us that not only were his conversations with the paper off-the-record but also that he was misquoted. Gabe said he reached out to the reporter who apologized and offered to fix the quote. But later he was told that the quote had to stay as is.
What about eBay?
“Google made algorithmic changes to its search results that favor big businesses over smaller ones, and in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay Inc., contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action.
The company also boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc., according to people familiar with the matter,” the Wall Street Journal reported in its piece.
Google’s own pages clearly say, “While advertisers can pay to be displayed in clearly marked sections of the page, no one can buy better placement in the search results.”
And eBay has stopped advertising numerous times with Google both in 2013 and 2007. Over the years eBay, has not been all that happy with Google’s algorithms not ranking the site as high as it would like.
Google’s organic search team and the ads team are completely separate. In fact, Google’s organic search team has penalized the Google Ads team before for violating the Google webmaster guidelines.
Google’s search team has banned numerous Google properties over the years including banning Chrome (it’s own browser) from ranking for the term “browser” and Google Japan.
I’ve reported on Google for a long time and the messaging over the 16 years has always been consistent — Google does not let those who advertise have any advantage ranking in organic search. Google’s actions and messaging over the years have been consistent around this. Continue reading