Google responds to cries of search favoritism from competitors

placesThis weekend, various websites claimed that Google was unfairly generating search results that favor its own Google Places feature. Among the accusers were notable companies, like TripAdvisor, WebMD, Yelp, and Citysearch. In the Sunday edition of the Wall Street Journal, the websites stated that they were being purposefully edged out.

Google responded today by saying in a blog post that “We built Google for users, not websites.” The statement went on to explain how the search engine works, and that “we still provide the usual Web results linking to great sites; we simply organize those results around places to make it much faster to find what you’re looking for.”

This organization is exactly what has irked the search engine giant’s rivals. Jay Herratti of CityGrid Media (which owns Citysearch, Urbanspoon, and InsiderPages) told the WSJ that these actions are actively putting his sites at a disadvantage. “There is no denying that today Google is competing [with many websites] for the same Web traffic and the same advertising dollars,” he told the Journal. Herratti noted, as well, that while he believes this is directly inhibiting his sites’ traffic, concretely determining that data is difficult.  TripAdvisor’s CEO also aired his frustration, saying that “Google does seem to be chasing us, and I don’t like it one bit.”

A significant amount of traffic to these sites comes directly from Google search results, and the more popular Places becomes, the harder they could be hit. Google has been investing considerable resources into the geo-social genre, most significantly with its additions of Place Search and HotPot. The company has also been recently scrutinized for its business operations, with national and international entities voicing concern over its possible manipulation of Web search.

For now, it sounds like Google’s response is, more or less, to say “tough.” Question is, are users utilizing the Places results over the business links simply because they appear first, or is it because they’re truly more helpful? No formal complaints have been filed, but don’t expect the issue to die too soon. If companies are losing real revenue, they’re likely to probe Google tactics further.

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