Google’s Constitutional Amendment: The Right to Rank as you see fit


Some of the most lively debate and controversy at search conferences surrounds the issue of Google ranking rights.   At Search Engine Strategies in San Jose the most interesting (and confrontational) session involved Michael Gray taking Matt Cutts to task on Google’s aggressive stand on commercially driven linking.    

The stakes of the “right to rank” question may become even higher in the context of a recent Microsoft v Google case, where MS is suggesting in their court brief against the Google Doubleclick merger that the merger will create something like monopoly conditions in the online advertising space because (according to Microsoft’s sources) Google+Doubleclick serve more than half the world’s online advertising.  

Although I don’t think MS is attacking Google ranking methods directly here it’ll be interesting to see if Google claims that since their algorithm does not rank the free “organic” listings on a commercial basis the suit has less merit than it would if they *did* favor sites in the organic listings.   

This would, of course, beg the key point that Google’s ranking power is now so high that it can make or break companies – offline as well as online – depending on how they rank in the organic “free” listings.   This confers on Google an obligation that IMHO they still do not take seriously enough – the obligation to minimize the collateral damage and maximize the correct rankings using, if necessary, more human intervention.     In short I’m saying that until the results are *so good* that only highly subjective opinions are coming into play Google needs to do *more* than is currently done, based on the principle that “with great wealth comes great responsibility”.    Ironically I think Google’s success has to a large extent insulated them from the growing criticism in the webmaster community.   Some of that criticism is self serving, e.g. spammers who are unhappy their tactics now fail, but much of the criticism is coming from users and newly minted webmasters or mom and pops who are frustrated because they can’t seem to get ranked properly for even the most obvious queries.   Google blames the spammers for this, but it’s a dynamic process and more transparency from Google – perhaps with stronger forms of site and webmaster ID for “official” or clearly white hat sites – could go a long way to solving the transparency problems.

Over at Matt Cutts’ blog he makes this point about a recent ASK court case decision in favor of a search engine’s right to rank as they see fit.  This point lies at the heart of the right to rank debate:

 Again, it makes sense that search engines get to decide how to rank/remove content in their own index…

I replied over there:

Matt …hmmm….wouldn’t you agree that this has some clear limits?   What would you call crossing the line on this freedom to rank however you see fit?
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If Google pulled what Yahoo did some time ago and essentially forced sites to pay for inclusion or be excluded would that fall within the sensical realm?  
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MSN is claiming (somewhat ironically and hypocritically, but correctly) that Google’s ad power is becoming close enough to a monopoly that remedies are in order.  Historically there has been trouble when a single company or country controlled more than half a resource – why no problem here?      

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