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US Court Rules Google Can Arrange Its SERPs As It Likes

     
3:34 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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This is poles apart from the European view. Even so, it's Google's system to do as it wishes. The problem occurs when it has the majority market share, and that's where, in Europe, particularly, there are ongoing investigations.

A San Francisco court ruled last week that Google has the right to arrange its search results as it pleases, which confirms the company’s long-held position, while underscoring the stark difference in how U.S. and European authorities seek to regulate the search giant.

The new ruling, which is the first since 2007 to address Google’s rights under the First Amendment, came after a website called CoastNews argued that Google had unfairly pushed it far down in its search results – even though, CoastNews claimed, its site appeared at the top of results created by Bing and Yahoo. CoastNews suggested the poor rankings were because Google wanted to eliminate CoastNews as a potential competitor.

Google responded by filing an “anti-SLAPP” motion, a legal tactic used to quickly challenge lawsuits that seek to stifle free speech. In a one-paragraph ruling, Judge Ernest Goldsmith granted the request, saying CoastNews’ claims against Google related to “constitutionally protected activity.”US Court Rules Google Can Arrange Its SERPs As It Likes [gigaom.com]
3:54 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I don't think the time is yet ripe for this. For the most part, Google has been able to shape the SERPS to it's financial advantage without hitting anyone with deep pockets. Most of those on the losing end, thus far, have been small guys, like "CoastNews".

Assuming that Google wishes to keep up it's current growth rate (that's exceeding the growth rate of internet traffic), they will now have to start taking revenue away from larger entities.

That's the point at which somebody other than Google will start paying lobbyists to shape opinions.
5:53 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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No surprise there. Google is a US company and the US bends over backwards for it. But it gets nothing but a good slapping when up against the EU.
6:52 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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small guys, like "CoastNews".


I nominate that for understatement of the year. I looked at the site and personally would be mad at google if they sent me to that site.

As for google's organic results being regulated, NEVER going to happen. google has been moving away from organic results for some time now, in the not too far off future no one will even remember what an organic search result was. Take away the organic results and any sliver of light regulation might have seen is gone.
7:06 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Look at the make up of the court that issued the judgment and go from there. And that's part of the problem as there are few in high places not tainted by "a view" willing to find a solution. (sorry, pol speak, but it is what it is)
7:32 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Look at the make up of the court that issued the judgment


It's just the most recent of several judgments, starting with the Search King, Inc. v. Google Technology, Inc. case back in 2003. That decision in that case (rendered by a court in Western Oklahoma, a long from Mountain View), stated:

"Neither Search King nor any other web site has the option of demanding a particular Page Rank, or even whether their web site will be accessible on Google's search engine. In short, Google owes no duty to rank, or refrain from ranking, Search King or any other web site, and its Page Ranks, whether favorable or unfavorable, confer no rights upon the owners or operators of ranked web pages."
8:51 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Google can do whatever they want just like we can do whatever we want on our website. I can make a list of airlines and always include American & Delta at the end under Podunk Air on page 14 because they lost my bags once or I don't like the color of their site or any random reason. Nobody cares if I do that but people get mad when Google does it. Google has the same rights as any website to list whatever they want. Google can and does list their stuff above all other sites. I bet every single website owner does the same thing.
8:52 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Editorial Guy: Both cases were raised with the same premise...the site's organic ranking vs other organically ranked competitors. I agree that in and of itself, that won't be a winning strategy in court. That's not the issue that Europe is continually after Google either.

Neither case raised the issue of Google shifting revenue to it's own benefit. That would raise different issues. And, of course, less likely to happen here in the U.S...unless Google starts hitting someone with deep pockets.
10:25 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Still won't happen. Look at the cable industry. We just don't have the climate for it, and won't for the foreseeable future.

And G probably makes most of its money in the US. (I've never seen that broken out, might be interesting) If they can't bend the EU to their point of view, I wonder if they wouldn't just pull out? They'd lose a lot of revenue, but they'd save on court and litigation costs.
10:48 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I wonder if they wouldn't just pull out?


They wouldn't need to, all they would have to do is pull the organics. They would still have adwords, knowledge graph, shopping, and all the verticals they are buying into, more than enough to provide the searcher what they are looking for in many cases.

And I'm not even saying that they would need to, any government that steps in to tell a private website what they can and cannot do (that's within the law) would be a dangerous government.

I'm pretty sure that none of you have my website listed on the front page of your site, you want your government to tell you that you have to?
11:00 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Neither case raised the issue of Google shifting revenue to it's own benefit. That would raise different issues.


If by "shifting revenue to it's [sic] own benefit" you mean promoting its own properties on its pages, that's true--it is a different issue. Still, the remedy could have sweeping repercussions: Should Apple (which has a monopoly on iOS devices) be required to promote vendors other than the Apple Store? What about Amazon and eBay in the markets they control?

Re Europe: The EU's beef with Google seems to be less about protecting searchers than about protecting big-money members of the FairSearch lobby. The agreement that was worked out between the EU and Google, and which now appears to be in jeopardy, involved giving favored ad placement on Google's SERPs to FairSearch members. That's hardly the kind of remedy that encourages free competition or benefits the consumer--or smaller businesses that aren't members of the FairSearch lobby, for that matter.
11:02 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Finally, the US got it right.

When governments try to impose how web sites display content, other than for the disabled or privacy, then they're way overstepping.

What next, will the EU try to tell newspapers what should be on the front page? Ridiculous.

Google's predecessor was the PHONE BOOK and you never heard governments going ape when the Yellow Pages promoted their stuff above everyone else.
11:29 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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ou never heard governments going ape when the Yellow Pages promoted their stuff above everyone else


Well, the U.S. Government did enact the most sweeping anti-trust action ever...against the company that made the phone book at the time. Wasn't about the phone book though.
11:52 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Phone service was a utility, the phone book was not. A search engine is not a utility. Search engines have competition. The quality of and access to that competition is not controlled by google. The fact that the public chooses to use one search engine over another does not make the chosen search engine a monopoly.
12:41 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Sure! they can do whatever they like with their SERPS, but once Joe public realize they are being played more and more people will be conducting their searches elsewhere... i know i do.

Losing trust should not be taken lightly... who wants to use a search engine knowing they employ such heavy hand money driven censorship?
12:53 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Lots of people don't know and wouldn't care if they did. The search engine is just a means to an end. People want answers, and they don't care where they get them as long as they get them.*

* See also - Wikipedia
1:08 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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@netmeg

Wrong to think like that. People do care where and how they get their answers. Google already losing allot of webmasters support, next are many small businesses etc., they all spread the word and there are many aspects of Google that many people resent and it is not getting any better.

Once Facebook is going into search Google is simply toast!
1:08 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Believe it or not, there are credible people on both sides of this debate.

Eric Schmidt conceded that Google is a "near monopoly" during the U.S. Senate hearings.

I can understand why many of you disagree that Google is a monopoly. However, it seems a bit overboard to dismiss it out of hand.

The transcript of the hearing is a good read for anyone that thinks this is a simple issue, no matter which side you're taking (gee I hope I'm using you're the right way so I don't get quoted with [sic] later...I do so strive for perfection in forum posts).

[gpo.gov...]
1:37 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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If Google can't win a court case in San Francisco then that 18 million pound a year lobbying really would be a waste of money. USA appoint judges politically.
6:21 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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And the Case against Google complaint (by Martin/Coastnews) is here

[digitalcommons.law.scu.edu...]
6:45 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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If Google wants to promote their stuff over everyone else I think that's their right being it's their website. No more of a problem than the big chains, grocers in particular, promoting their store brands above all the other brand names.

Annoying, yes, illegal, no. It's their store, there choice just like it's your choice not to shop there if you don't like it.

I never had issue with the feds picking on MS as they did dirty deeds to make sure they were in every computer, and as such became a monopoly, nor with the phone company, a true monopoly.

But when someone claims something that is purely by choice, a domain name typed into a URL is a monopoly, then the either the definition of monopoly in the dictionary needs an update or the judiciary needs to be re-educated in what the word truly means.

Just because you monopolize and industry by no fault other than popular choice is not what makes a monopoly and then attacking such a company because they're massively popular also makes no sense.

We tend to call such success the American Dream.

No wonder the EU dislikes them ;)
7:16 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Google is the only company which can rise and tank bussinesses, no matter as how good they are. I will give you an example. Let say Google want to invest in well know company(Buy their shares). They can simply lower them in Search to that point that shares will be so cheap and then buy a lot of them and rise them up again so shares will rise as well. I think this is crime. At least in my eyes.
9:22 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Google is the only company which can rise and tank bussinesses, no matter as how good they are.


Sorry, if it's a really good business it'll survive despite what Google goes because the customers will keep them alive.

Plus, a real business has a business plan that isn't 100% dependent on Google. Any business that has a marketing plan 100% dependent on Google then that business probably should dies.

Even if Google tanks you in the SERPs, there are AdWords, there's all sorts of other marketing like Facebook, Twitter, etc. and some people build thriving businesses solely on social media alone.

Do you think Farmville and some other Zenga games give a flying rat fart that they don't show up in Google?

Plus, many people that got "destroyed" by Google often shot themselves in the foot doing things they shouldn't have in the first place despite Google plainly placing webmaster guidelines outlining best practices, ignore them just like those fine sites banned by AdSense, and then wonder what happened when defying the guidelines gets them tanked. Then again a lot of people that think they have "good seo" don't, and are easy prey to those that do really good SEO and then blame it on Google.

I'm not saying Google isn't to blame for some of the stuff going on, I think they're doing things they shouldn't as well, but the majority of people that have shown me their sites that were 'singled out' by Google weren't singled out at all and they were 100% responsible for what happened.

However, none of that is about the topic at hand which is about the US Court ruling and we should start a thread devoted to debating Google's allegedly bad behavior in SERP manipulation and get it all out in the air once and for all.

What some call SERP manipulation can merely be the results of a new algo, or someone else with a better SEO game, etc. but it would need some definitive analysis with specifics to prove or disprove those theories once and for all.

What often happens when people sit down and analyze what the SERPs are doing, opposed to just making wild claims and accusations, is we often end up finding something new we previously didn't know which, until you seriously study it, doesn't appear to make sense unless they 'manipulated it'.

If someone could make scientific proof there are positions, other than Google products, that make no SEO sense to be where they are, then THAT would be news worthy if they were caught playing favorites with actual proof to back it up.

Until then, I'll follow my Missouri heritage, and say "SHOW ME!" :)
10:06 am on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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People, users, surfers, whatever you want to call them, use Google because they can find what they want. Most of the time they don't change because it's easier to leave the default search where it is. You have to remember that when the net search business got going there were several search engines to choose from, and people went to more than one to do their searching. Nowadays, search is built into the equipment, so it's there, on the vast majority of phones and tablet computers. It's more difficult for many people to make a change. Which search engine do you think is the default search on Android! Don't answer that, it's a rhetorical question.

That default issue reminds me of the browser wars: Microsoft's IE was the default on Windows. You all know what happened there [webmasterworld.com], and it was not favourable to Microsoft. There are parallels developing in Android and search, imho. It'll take lawmakers to wake up to it. A court case in a remote circuit will not be enough, and businesses just need to understand that they are going after the wrong aspect. It's not their positioning in the SERPs to attack, it's the bigger picture of a monopoly position, which is where the EU are investigating.

If Google closed its search engine, where would everyone be? There are alternatives, but I can picture the anguish on some faces as they didn't realise they could change the settings on their tablet.

Business needs to just get on with it, take what it can and stop moaning about Google owing them a living.
If Google keeps putting up the cost of advertising it will mean only the deepest pockets will continue. Advertising will become self-regulating, and it may be reaching that point now.

So, if you're not listed in Google's SERPs in a reasonable slot, and you don't have deep pockets to square up on the advertising side, start looking at other marketing opportunities as there are plenty out there.

It's time we had another thread on the topic of business without Google as it has been a while.
12:56 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Yep, they have that right to arrange their SERPs exactly as they wish. Whether they have a right to show advertisements which are not crystal-clearly described as such, or abuse their monopoly, or intrude so much into the privacy of their visitors, visitors to web sites using Google tracking software, users of their browser, etc etc etc are different questions and it is these that European legislators are concerned about.
1:15 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Most of the time they don't change because it's easier to leave the default search where it is.


I dunno exactly what Microsoft's limitations are anymore, but I've bought three Windows 8.1 laptops in the past two months, and every one of them had Bing set to the default search.

(I suspect a lot of people open up their browser in Bing and type Google into the box, but I have no proof)
2:26 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Re the "monopoly" issue:

In the U.S. (the country we're talking about in this thread), monopolies aren't illegal. Only abusive monopolies are illegal. To use an example, Microsoft didn't get into trouble for having a monopoly or near-monopoly on PCs; it got into trouble for things like tying the browser to the operating system and requiring PC manufacturers to buy Windows licenses for all the computers they made, even if some of those PCs weren't loaded with Windows.

Side note: I was a contractor for Microsoft when Windows 95 was launched, and I can remember how a lot of folks at Microsoft were hoping that building Microsoft's original proprietary MSN into Windows 95 would mean an end to AOL's effective monopoly of consumer online services. (This was at a time when, for most people, proprietary dial-up services like AOL, MSN, CompuServe, and Prodigy were the gateway to online activities and the Internet.) Guess what: MSN was a flop. Consumers continued flocking to AOL, despite the fact that they had to install third-party software on their computers.

We've seen the same scenario play out with search: Google is the search engine of choice for most people, and when I say "choice," I mean just that, because consumers have to consciously choose Google over other search options. For those who think Google has an unfair monopoly on search, I'd ask "What's your proposed remedy? Should consumers be forced to use other search engines that they don't want?"
2:42 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Google is the search engine of choice for most people, and when I say "choice," I mean just that, because consumers have to consciously choose Google over other search options.


It's not the "choice for most people" It's the "choice" for many, but not most.

I have many non-Internet friends that just didn't realise they could change their default search to something else. Now they have a choice.
2:48 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Only abusive monopolies are illegal.


Who are you trying to educate? I don't see any posts complaining about a monopoly market share sans bad behavior...assuming you take each post in full context.
3:04 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I do think that Google needs to be regulated generally but not how they display search. They are too powerful. They have control of a very large amount of data about all of us. They have the power to be big brother even though they don't seem to be using it. No private company can own a nuclear bomb or have a nuclear plant without a lot of Government oversight. I'm pretty sure they can't have a nuke no matter what.

Google is the only private company that has a nuclear bomb. They can destroy our economy if they wanted to. Granted i'm sure they won't just like I'm sure Ford won't drop a bomb but I don't want ford to have a bomb. People don't realize what Google could do if it was run by a Bond villain. What if Google deleted all of its data including analytics, adwords, gmail and search. Can you imagine what that would do to our economy. What if they decided to start using the data they have to blackmail people? What if they decided to help one company destroy another company. What if they blackmailed most of the congress. They have a massive weapon and we just trust that they will always be good people.

Maybe now they are good but what about when all the original people are dead and it is run like any major old corporation.
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