I was just listening to the MSNBC report on the Congressional hearings concerning Google’s business practices. To put it mildly, I was LOL, ROTFLMAO and had TSDMF. There are seriously days when I wonder how some people manage to find the start buttons on their computers. This brouhaha belongs in the same trash bin as the accusations that Yahoo has a massive army of elves who read every single comment on their news stories and censors them for the Democrats when they are not censoring them for the Republicans. It comes from not understanding what they are looking at.
One of the things Google is being accused of is favoring those companies with which it has a “business relationship” so that those companies come up when one googles a subject. Yes, the first thing to come up on some searches is a business. Notice the slight background color shift, read the fine print, will ya? It’s a sponsored link. That means that company paid money to be put in that position. Most of the sponsored links are on the right hand side of your screen. If a company comes up at the top of search list, it means that company paid big money to be there, just the way the company with the page-wide ad at the top of our website paid premium for that space.
So, how do I know this? Simple. We are constantly amazed when LezGetReal comes up in a Google search. We always figure that our stories might, just might, make it to page 200 in the search results. To find us in the first ten stories or to find us at the top – well, that just blows us away. Our business relationship with Google isn’t really “our” relationship. Google has a service for placing ads on sites. It saves companies the trouble of trying to figure out what sites they want to advertise on. We don’t choose many of the ads on our site and we don’t pay for Google’s services. We certainly didn’t pay Google in any way to be the first site on the search result for a couple of stories about Will and Kate in Canada. It was just that our site did more extensive background stories about that royal visit than the entertainment sites. Our focus was on Canada and the Canadian people more than on Kate as fashion icon. And the night Irene hit New England, we were the first site fielding questions from all over the country about this town or that resort and Bridgette tied into the state’s emergency management site and electric company sites to provide that information. That’s how we ended up at the top – by doing our jobs and doing them just a little better or a little faster than the next guys.
What the outside-the-industry protesters don’t understand is that where a site ends up in the search results is the poor man’s equivalent of the Nielson ratings. We don’t dream of coming up higher than Wikipedia or Huffington Post, but we can dream of coming up in the first 20 and get downright giddy over coming up in the first 10. In addition to our “hits” counter, it’s our best way of discovering whether or not you like us, what stories we do best and what we can do better.
As for the sites that are complaining that Google favors certain sites because of some secret business relationship – that’s sour grapes and you know it. Excepting the super-sites like HuffPo, if you consistently come up behind some other site, the thing to do is look at what they are doing right and you are not doing. Are your stories too long, do they have too strident a voice, are you too enamored of your own picture to put the subject picture on the story, is your site less user-friendly – ask these questions instead of assuming that you are being discriminated against in some way. A site that views those rankings as a way to analyze the site’s effectiveness will rise in those rankings. It’s just basic market analysis without paying for a marketing consultant.
The other search engines, naturally, insist that Google must be doing something bad to have a lock on so many of our searches. Google is not my default search engine. Yahoo is my home page, so Yahoo search is my default. If I used a Windows app as my home page, Bing would be my default search. I have to go through multiple key strokes and mouse movements to choose Google and I do so because, to quote an old James Bond song “Nobody does it better…” Get over it. Being better does not require doing something unethical. It just requires working harder and smarter and listening to the people you serve.
The worst part of holding Congressional hearings into anything involving the internet is knowing that there are far too many idiots in Washington who don’t understand it. It was mildly amusing when George W. Bush claimed that he understood the internet because all websites start with “W” when they actually start with http, or when Al Gore was accused of saying he invented the internet, when what he really said was he helped write the laws that made it possible the way his father had written the laws that made the interstate highway system possible. It is not amusing when a Congressman says the internet is bunch of tubes or when the Congressional websites crash because they can’t handle the traffic or when you go on a candidate’s website and it looks like it was created by a 90-year-old (no, I’m not stupid enough to say “5-year-old” they know more than I do.) Assignment to Congressional or Senatorial committees are based on politics, not any expertise held by the members or their staffs. That results in idiots who think the internet is a bunch of tubes, similar to telephone lines, making decisions about net neutrality. We really need a better system for exploring technological issues.