Gary Danko is an expensive restaurant in San Francisco. Its tasting menu starts at $US111. Add another $US76 if you want wine. And we didn’t even get to the tax or tip yet, so you’re not likely to escape from an evening there for less than $US200 a head.
It’s also a very good restaurant — it has four and a half stars out of five on Yelp.
But you would might not know that if you searched for Gary Danko using a mobile phone. That’s because when you search for “Gary Danko Yelp” on a phone, your entire screen will be taken up by a display box for Google’s version of Yelp (see image). That looks like a “card” that displays a Google map to the restaurant, Google’s own starred reviews of the joint, and other Google-generated contact info. The card takes up the entire screen of your phone — you have to scroll down an entire screen if you specifically want to see Yelp’s data on Gary Danko.
This is crucial, Yelp believes, because more than 50% of searches probably now occur on mobile devices rather than desktop devices. On desktop, even though a Google card will appear for restaurant searches, the screen is big enough to show other results too. On phones, Google gets top billing, and often everyone else is “below the fold” (an old term used to describe less important news on the bottom half of a newspaper). That’s important because mobile users notoriously have no patience and would rather not scroll endlessly for the results they want.
It’s not clear how Google generates these results. A similar search for “Gary Danko Tripadvisor” shows the Tripadvisor result coming first, just as you’d expect. So is Google screwing only with Yelp? No. Even Tripadvisor gets second billing when you search for “Fontainebleau Miami Beach Tripadvisor.” In that case, the Google card dominates your screen (see image). It’s especially bad for Tripadvisor because that company just started an ad campaign asking people to use the term “tripadvisor” in vacation searches.
We requested comment from Google but did not immediately hear back. We’ll update with the company’s response when we get it.
Yelp is especially angry at inconsistent Google search results — that just so happen to put Google’s stuff first even when you’re searching for Yelp — because Google is about to sign an anti-trust pact in Europe that will govern how it displays results for competing businesses, like Yelp.
Yelp has filed a formal complaint in hopes that regulators will create more strict rules for Google, preventing it from prioritizing its own results in searches that ought to be going elsewhere.
At issue is Google’s natural monopoly of search. Google dominates search worldwide. In some countries, more than 90% of searches are done on Google. In general, this is not because Google has maliciously carved out its rivals. It’s because Google is simply better at search than everyone else. Indeed, Yelp’s own internal documents show that Google’s search results have not hurt Yelp’s traffic (and of course, Yelp gets a lot of traffic from Google despite Google’s card displays).
But having a natural monopoly in search because you’re good at it does not entitle you to start reaching into other industries and re-ordering competition there. In this case, Google appears to be interfering with the restaurant/hotel review business to the detriment of Yelp and maybe Tripadvisor.
From Google’s point of view, it is also in the restaurant reviews business, just like Yelp. The company has a right to be there and compete. If Yelp doesn’t like it, then it should market itself elsewhere accordingly. There is no right to be on Google, and Google has no right to help Yelp by giving it free traffic.
And because these various search terms produce inconsistent results, it is not possible to say that in some Mountain View, California, cubicle there is a Google exec cackling as he shunts Yelp’s results down a couple of notches in the rankings. It could be that Google’s search algorithm is more complex and variable than Yelp believes, and that the engine is producing disparate results for good reasons.
But it sure would be nice to know why it is that Google’s own results come first when you search for locations that have Yelp reviews using the word “Yelp.” As one source who sympathizes with Yelp told Business Insider this morning, “It would be as if Google began putting Google+ as the first link when people searched for Facebook.”