Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Google+ Bashing: Yelp Has It Right (But It's Google's World)

Today's New York Times has a very provocative article about a study conducted by Tim Wu of Columbia University on local search results. Essentially, Wu presented people with local search results in two ways - 

  • With the Google+ "snack pack" of local search results
  • Without these results, showing the older "traditional" search results, excluding the "snack pack" of local.
It's Google's World; we just live in it.
According to Wu and the study (financed by Google competitor Yelp), consumers strongly preferred the second set of results. Essentially the study argues that Google is systematically giving preferences to Google+ local results OVER the "better" Google organic results.

Yelp also financed an infomercial website called Focus on the User and a YouTube video explaining it.  All of this argues that Google is using its monopoly search power to give preference to its own local system, Google+ Local (now renamed Google My Business) over Yelp's competitive local system.

As Consumers and Citizens

As consumers and citizens, we should care a lot about this problem. Generally speaking, I agree with Yelp: Google is indeed systematically favoring its own Google+ network, and in fact, often shows us "worse" results than we'd get if we just scrolled down and ignored the Google+ results. It's an open secret among SEO experts that just a few reviews, some good citations on other local cites, and some on page cross-linking and content around local search words can easily propel a vendor "up" (quite dramatically) on local search results.

Is that good for consumers? Probably not, but it just speaks to the very competitive nature of local SEO. If local search matters to your business, and you're not playing the local SEO / influence Google+ local game, you are losing out to competitors in a big, big way.

As consumers and citizens, we should care about this dispute, and probably lobby our elected representatives to regulate Google (or at least investigate it) to make results more accurate and less biased towards Google properties.

As Marketers: It's Google's World, We Just Live In It

As marketers, however, we are "takers" and not "makers" of this world. It's a fact that many searches (Yelp says 1/3) are local. And it's a fact that Google+ results often dominate the positions high on the page.

And it's fact that if local matters to your business, you had better take Google+ seriously and work hard at local SEO, which means work hard at Google+ local, especially soliciting Google+ reviews from customers.

It's Google's world.  We just live in it.