Microsoft and FairSearch: Distorting the Truth About Google and Search

7/17/11 | 12:06:00 PM

Microsoft and its anti-Google organization FairSearch are distorting the truth about Google and how search and search advertising works -- and making assertions without any evidence whatsoever. Here’s the truth:


Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “A website‘s ability to compete depends largely on whether it appears on search results pages in response to users‘ queries and, more importantly, on where it appears within those results.”

Fact: We built Google search for consumers, not websites, and consumers don’t need Google to access the web. Google serves more like a GPS on the Internet highway—not an on-ramp. It helps people get around, but it’s not necessary. If someone knows where he wants to go, he can navigate to those destinations directly, whether it’s Craigslist, the New York Times websites, or icanhascheezburger.com. Search engines are popular and useful, but they’re just one of many ways to navigate the web. For example, according to Compete.com, NYTimes.com receives only 18% of its traffic from Google, while TMZ.com receives more traffic from Facebook than from Google, and Politico.com receives more traffic from the Drudge Report than Google.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “As a result of its dominance in search and search advertising, Google can control where users go and what sites they find.”

Fact: Using Google is a choice, and there are lots of other choices available to you for getting information: other general-interest search engines, specialized search engines, direct navigation to websites, mobile applications, social networks, and more.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “As described more fully below, consumers are misled by Google‘s manipulated search rankings and by its deceptive and preferential display of its own sites in response to users‘ queries.”

Fact: This is false. Microsoft and FairSearch provide no evidence whatsoever that consumers are misled by Google’s search results. Furthermore, Microsoft and Yahoo both show their own specialized shopping results when users enter a product query, or show their own maps when a user enters an address or local query.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “Further, Google‘s exclusionary conduct denies revenue and traffic to sites that compete with Google, hindering the ability of those sites to bring more innovative online content and better services to consumers.”

Fact: This is false. Microsoft and FairSearch provide no evidence whatsoever that Google has acted to harm competitors. Google doesn’t “owe” traffic to any website, just as the Drudge Report or Huffington Post don’t “owe” links to any particular website.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “Websites lose critical traffic when Google steers users to its own or preferred partners‘ sites and forecloses the visibility of rival sites.”

Fact: Microsoft and FairSearch provide no evidence whatsoever that users are misled by Google’s search results. And of course, every website would like to be at the top of Google’s results, but Google doesn’t “owe” any website a particular position.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “[Website publishers] also pay Google an ever-higher percentage of the advertising revenues that their sites generate for non-search (i.e., content and display) ads served by Google.”

Fact: Website publishers don’t pay Google; rather, when Google places ads on publisher’s website, Google shares the lion’s share of the revenue with the publisher. Google disclosed in May 2010 that publishers in its AdSense program receive 51% or 68% of the revenue (depending on which program they use); those percentages have not changed.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “Advertisers pay ever-higher fees to Google and have little choice but to accept Google‘s terms, such as its restrictive policies that prohibit advertisers from using their data freely on other ad platforms. Those fees are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.”

Fact: Google’s advertising prices are set by advertisers themselves, who bid what they’re willing to pay per click, and Google places no restrictions on advertisers moving their data moving their own ad campaign data to other platforms. Furthermore, Microsoft and FairSearch provide no evidence whatsoever that consumer pay higher prices because of Google’s policies.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “Google now displays non-algorithmic results at the top or in the middle of the results page in a manner that does not clearly flag for consumers that these results are placed there artificially by Google – frequently with links to Google‘s own pages.”

Facts: These results are also delivered via algorithms, and are identical to how Bing and Yahoo show local search results. When we organize local information we organize search results around particular businesses. Local search results cluster web results in an efficient display, packing in 30-40 web links on a single results page. This makes it easier for people to scan the results page and compare businesses. In our testing we’ve found this saves users an average of two seconds to find the place they’re looking for. Our search results are good for businesses and review sites too. Google sent 27 billion clicks to local businesses in the last year alone.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “The result is to induce users to click on the artificially placed links regardless of whether those links are the most relevant to the user‘s query.”

Fact: Google doesn’t “induce” any of our users to click on anything. Users click on whatever they find useful. Furthermore, Google’s results doesn’t contain any “artificially placed” content -- we provide the answers that we think users will find most useful.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “[Google’s search] algorithms can be programmed, however, to exclude, penalize, or promote specific sites or whole categories of sites.”

Fact: Our algorithms attempt to serve and protect consumers by making sure they see the most relevant results. For example, a site called DecorMyEyes was ripping off its customers and believed negative reviews of its business were helping its Google rankings. We built an algorithm to ensure that businesses that are bad to their consumers aren’t rewarded in the Google results -- that’s an example of improving the search results to help consumers.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “[Google’s Place Pages] enable Google to earn advertising revenues and to deprive the other website of user traffic.”

Fact: Review websites receive a tremendous amount of traffic from Google, and that traffic has consistently grown over time. As of March 2011, Google sent approximately 44 million clicks per month to Yelp; 36 million clicks per month to TripAdvisor; and 13 million clicks per month to Citysearch. Comparing February 2010 to February 2011, Yelp saw a 63% growth in referral traffic from Google, TripAdvisor a 9% year-over-year growth, and Citysearch a 5% year-over-year growth.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “Google is now seeking to coerce TripAdvisor into acquiescing to this use by tying the removal of TripAdvisor content from Google Places pages to the exclusion of all TripAdvisor links from appearing in Google‘s dominant algorithmic search engine results.”

Fact: This is false. Google hasn’t sought to coerce TripAdvisor into anything. TripAdvisor, like all websites, can remove its content from the web index using the robots.txt protocol, which disallows Google from indexing the content of the page. Webmasters could also use robots.txt to disallow crawling of all their pages or particular pages. A webmaster can, for example, allow Google to crawl the primary page of information about a particular place and prevent us from crawling subsequent pages containing reviews.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “Google handicaps each bidder with a quality score. The lower a quality score, the higher a price the advertiser has to bid to win the auction.”

Fact: Microsoft and FairSearch’s criticisms are hypocritical. Every search engine — Google, Yahoo and Bing — uses quality scores to ensure that consumers see relevant ads.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “Google adopts policies that prevent the development of software that would enable advertisers – and small advertisers, in particular – to use and compare Google‘s prices and returns on investment with those of Google‘s competitors.”

Fact: Google has no such policies. Advertisers control their own ad campaign data, and have full ability to export their ad campaign data either through comma separated value (CSV) export, or through our AdWords Application Programming Interface (API). Advertisers can use Google AdWords Editor to export their ad account data – including ad campaigns and keywords in a common CSV format. In fact, Microsoft provides detailed instructions and videos on how advertisers can export their campaigns from Google to Bing.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “Google prevents advertisers from synchronizing updates or other changes to their ad campaign data across multiple platforms. Google also imposes limits on advertisers‘ ability to port their Google AdWords data to any other ad platform using third party tools that would make the process simple or even automatic.”

Fact: This is false — Google places no limits on advertisers. Google does place some co-mingling limits on third parties who sell the AdWords API, in order to provide advertisers with similar experiences through the AdWords program. Each ad network offers different features to enable advertisers to target specific types of ads to the right audience. These features are typically not compatible with one another. In our experience, user interfaces that copy data between different ad networks create incentives for developers of those interfaces to build the lowest common denominator of the features of all ad networks, for the sake of compatibility and portability. Such a lowest common denominator approach would prevent advertisers from taking advantage of some of the unique features we have built within AdWords. Again, these restrictions only apply to third party tools, and there are no restrictions on advertisers’ direct use of the AdWords API.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “As a Harvard Business School professor has stated with respect to Google‘s restrictions on advertising data portability, the 'net effect . . . is to reinforce the tendency of small to medium-sized advertisers to "single-home" – to use only Google AdWords to the exclusion of competing platforms.'”

Fact: The “Harvard Business School professor” is Ben Edelman, a paid Microsoft consultant.

Microsoft/FairSearch Claim: “In addition to government investigations, several private cases have been filed against Google under both under Federal and State law.”

Fact: As reported in 2010 by the Wall Street Journal, these lawsuits have been filed against Google by Microsoft’s antitrust law firm, Cadwalader.