Yelp and a coalition of like-minded travel and shopping web sites have created an elegant demonstration of the way they say Google biases search results in favour of Google’s own pages. It’s a Chrome browser extension that Yelp says strips Google+ pages from Google’s search results, forcing the search engine to display only the “organic” results Google would serve if it wasn’t biased in favour of Google’s own sites and links.
The device lets you compare Google’s results with, and without, interference from Google+, the anti-Google coalition claims. (We’ve got a couple of screengrabs below demonstrating the difference.) In other words, it removes all those “Google Review” star-ratings that you often see under links to your search results. Yelp claims that if Google didn’t automatically put its own links there, then reviews on sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor would appear higher up the page because those sites have hundreds or thousands of consumer reviews when Google’s reviews are often from only a handful of people.
For years, Yelp has complained that Google’s has shunted its relatively unpopular Google Reviews and Google+ links to the top of supposedly “organic” search results, while links to sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor, which have thousands of reviews per venue, are shunted down into the search engine’s equivalent of Siberia.
An internal document recently leaked from Yelp showed how the company believes Google is siphoning off up to 20% of its clicks, and directing them to Google’s own lower quality results. Yelp even persuaded the European Union to reopen an antitrust investigation into the way it alleges Google abuses its 90% share of the European search market to manipulate results. (Business Insider heard that Yelp’s intervention came after CEO Jeremy Stoppelman found himself at a dinner in San Francisco this spring with EC president José Manuel Barroso, where he was able to bend Barroso’s ear about Google’s market share.)
So Yelp has launched a coalition of business, including TripAdvisor and Consumer Watchdog, under the banner “Focus On The User,” to draw attention to the way Google results are displayed.
Business Insider contacted Google for comment but we did not hear back from the company yet.
The most interesting part of the coalition’s work is the development of this widget that shows you what Google search results look like with, and without, Google+ links.
Here is what a “normal” search for “London Hotels” looks like:
Note that the top organic result, for the Corinthia Hotel, has only 42 reviews on Google.
Now here is what you get if you strip out the Google+ results, so that Google only returns organic results based on its normal algorithm — in which Google+ results have to compete equally with everyone else’s pages:
Note that the Corinthia has 1,222 reviews on Tripadvisor.
Yelp argues that the Tripadvisor results are far more reliable than Google Reviews because there are more of them, and because Tripadvisor specialises in hotel reviews and is the market leader for that type of information.
The implication is that because Google dumps its own reviews on top of those, it is using its 90% market dominance to essentially interfere in the market for — in this case — hotels. That, possibly, is antitrust violation. Yelp isn’t complaining that Google dominates search, rather that it is using that dominance to distort markets outside of the search industry.