Google Goes on the Offensive

Posted by · October 7, 2011 12:06 pm

After being the subject of intense legal scrutiny for the past couple weeks, Google took to The Official Google Blog to tell its side of the story in a controversy that is sure to be, at worst, long and drawn out and at best, interesting. Beginning with an almost nostalgic depiction of CafePress’s use of Google Ad Sitelinks to become an online retail sensation, Google seems to be making a concerted effort to prove to people that it is not engaging in any questionable practices.

According to Google, over 200,000 advertisers have joined CafePress in taking advantage of their Ad Sitelinks service. Companies “from the smallest retailer…to the largest Fortune 500 Company” have reaped notable success, they argue.

Separating the Sitelinks feature into three means of engagement—visual, local, and social—Google began its counter-offensive by talking about how these ad formats are helping people find information, which—if you recall from “The Power of Google” Senate hearing a couple weeks ago—is what CEO Eric Schmidt alleges to have been Google’s philosophy all along.

When it comes to visual engagement, Google argues that Sitelinks let people get an enhanced “visual shopping experience.” The search site gave the example of a user searching for a movie time and being able to watch the movie preview within the search-result-like Sitelinks result.

Ad Sitelinks can also engage users in a local nature, says Google. Because 20 percent of desktop searches and 40 percent of mobile searches are based on location, the company says that its placement of results on a local map provides searchers with thousands of options and allows businesses to place additional information, such as an address and a phone number, in front of searchers.

Lastly, Google argues that its Ad Sitelinks feature is social in nature. Since implementing its +1 feature earlier this year, the search site says people can make recommendations to friends and fellow consumers. According to Google, they say this feature is beneficial by encouraging consumers to rate different businesses and helpful to business owners by letting customers give their marketing campaigns an extra boost.

On its face, this post by Google seems just as benign as any other post. After all, what company doesn’t want users to know about a feature that could provide that kind of mutual benefit? However, when one considers the timing of the post, its purpose as an intentional PR campaign becomes increasingly clear.

The obvious reason for such a campaign has to do with the bad press that has filled headlines since Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat before the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee a couple weeks ago. Despite seemingly noble talk of a business model that “always put[s] customers first” and activity that has been “doubling down” on the struggling American economy, many were disappointed with the lack of concrete answers the Google CEO gave when it came to the conflict of interests that has arisen as the company has grown exponentially and (antitrust buzzword alert!) vertically.

While it may be true that “[t]he open internet is the ultimate level playing field,” as Schmidt himself testified, the growing concern is that the internet can’t truly be open if one entity—public or private—owns and dominates massive pieces of it.

Though many may concede that Google legitimately won over 80 percent of the search market—dominating the likes of Yahoo, Bing, AOL, and others—the overwhelming concern is that with such success, the search site has used its considerable wealth and power to integrate into markets that depend on search for viability. And in doing so, several companies that appreciated the tool Google provided are experiencing considerable decreases in traffic because of the seemingly insurmountable task of competing with companies that Google either owns or has a financial incentive (Google Ads) to favor in its search results.

Needless to say, the prevalence of such criticism provides a strong incentive for Google to try to generate some good PR for itself. And since the Senate subcommittee did have a question specifically regarding the search-result-like nature yet enhanced presence of the Ad Sitelinks, it is not surprising that the company chose to start there this week.

If that’s not enough to convince readers of an underlying motive, it’s also worth mentioning that the results of Google Panda 2.5 update were announced October 1st. On the losing side of this update, we saw sites like technorati.com, prnewswire.com, consumeraffairs.com, and others lose as much as 93 percent of their SEO visibility. Among the winners, however, are Google-owned youtube.com and android.com, as well as foxnews.com and wsj.com (The Wall Street Journal), both of which are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation media empire.

The very next day, Google posts its “Ads are just answers” article.

Coincidence? Methinks not.