The WSJ report on search manipulation in Google is wrong

Nobody will say that Google is a pure and brilliant force that does good in the world. But we do not think it is the corrupt entity described in a very heavy article of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published Friday.

Next week, Land Search will offer more insights on the WSJ article. However, after an initial review of the statements and a discussion with members of the SEO community, including several people interviewed for the story, we believe that many of the allegations are inaccurate or fundamentally misunderstand what is going on behind the scenes. .

The WSJ accuses Google of manipulating search results to appease advertisers and favor big businesses over smaller results, while removing controversial autofill suggestions and capricious site blacklisting . The WSJ reported having conducted "more than 100 interviews" and its own comparative analysis of research findings.

The WSJ "tested 17 words and phrases covering a wide range of political and candidate issues, cultural expressions and newsreels. . . during [a] 17-day cycle "and compared them to the results on Bing and DuckDuckGo. Here are some of the article's assertions:

  • Google has made algorithmic changes to its search results, which favor large companies at the expense of smaller ones.
  • Google engineers regularly make adjustments in the background to other information that the company is using more and more. overlay above its basic search results.
  • Although Google publicly denies it, blacklists are removed to remove certain sites or prevent other sites from surfacing in certain types of results.
  • In automatic entry. . . Google engineers have created algorithms and blacklists to eliminate more inflammatory suggestions of controversial topics

Invited to comment on the story, a Google spokesman said, "We have been very public and transparent on the topics covered in this article, such as our Guidelines Regarding Search Criteria Nos Rules for special functions in research such as automatic and full legal withdrawals, our work combating misinformation via the Owl Project and the fact that the changes we make to research are aimed at users and not at commercial relations. This article contains a number of old, incomplete anecdotes, many of which not only date back to our current processes and policies, but also give a very imprecise impression of how we approach construction and the environment. improved research. We take a responsible, principled approach to making changes, including a rigorous evaluation process before the launch of any change – something we started to implement there is more than ten years. Listening to public comments is an essential part of improving research, and we continue to welcome them. "

In an example of alleged manipulation of search results by Google, the WSJ reports that Google made ranking concessions" on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay "following a heavy bargain between companies after a change of algorithm downgraded eBay pages. Google was willing to change the SERP to get money from eBay. There is probably much more to say than it is presented in the WSJ article, but eBay has already fired advertising spend on Google and Google has not made any ranking concessions.

The WSJ article is clearly informed by a considerable number of news stories. But in at least one case, one individual stated that he had been misquoted in the article and another person who had been interviewed for a long time, but who did not agree with the thesis of the article, was not mentioned.

This is not to say that the WSJ came with bias and ignored evidence to the contrary or that everything the WSJ says or claims is inaccurate. But the broader media narrative, in the context of a very charged political climate, has turned against the big tech companies. And while much of the general criticism of large technology companies is justified, the WSJ did not provide a detailed discussion of what is going on behind the scenes in this case.

We will dive deeper into this case next week.

About the author

Greg Sterling is a collaborative editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the links between digital commerce and offline commerce. Previously, he held senior positions at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him on Twitter or find him on LinkedIn .

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