Google’s Broken Promises & Who’s Running The Search Engine?

For two years in a row now, Google has gone back on major promises it made about search. The about-faces are easy fodder for anyone who wants to poke fun at Google for not keeping to its word. However, the bigger picture is that as Google has entered its fifteenth year, it faces new challenges on how to deliver search products that are radically different from when it started.

In the past, Google might have explained such shifts in an attempt to maintain user trust. Now, Google either assumes it has so much user trust that explanations aren’t necessary. Or, the lack of accountability might be due to its “fuzzy management” structure where no one seems in charge of the search engine.

The TL;DR summary: If Google breaks promises it once made about search, does it need to better explain why to keep trust with users?

Broken Promise 2012: Google Shopping Goes Pay-To-Play

The first broken promise came last year, when Google took the unprecedented step of turning one of its search products, Google Product Search, into a pure ad product called Google Shopping.

Previously, Google Product Search operated in the same way that Google’s regular search engine still does. It gathered listings from across the Web, showing results leading to merchants, at no charge to them. If merchants wanted to be guaranteed better placement for a particular search, they could buy ads, which ran above and to the right of the unpaid “editorial” listings.

Google ShoppingGoogle Shopping is a different creature. No one gets listed unless they pay. It’s as if the Wall Street Journal decided one day that it would only cover news stories if news makers paid for inclusion. No pay; no coverage.

It’s not a perfect metaphor. Paid inclusion doesn’t guarantee you’ll rank better or get favorable stories. But you don’t even get a chance to appear unless you shell out cold hard cash.

What Was Evil In 2004, Embraced In 2012

Shopping search engines have long had paid inclusion programs, but not Google. Google once felt so strongly that this was a bad practice that when it went public in 2004, it called paid inclusion evil, producing listings that would be of poor relevancy and biased. The company wrote, in part:

Because we do not charge merchants for inclusion in [Google Shopping], our users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.

Times change, and a more mature Google might have thought twice about making such a strong statement and implied promise of how it would operate. As I said, it’s easy fodder to make fun of the 180-degree reversal that Google made here. It’s even easier when the company steadfastly tries to deflect from the reversal protesting that it’s not doing paid inclusion, by trying to redefine the term or by focusing on the fact that it has disclaimers.

Such things are weak arguments compared to a far more respectable response: acknowledge the change and explain why it was done — and do so on the main Google blog, where other major changes are often announced, not tucked away on the Google Commerce blog aimed at merchants, as Google did.

Reason? Supposedly Better Results, But….

And why was it done? At best, Google has suggested that it can’t get this type of information from merchants unless they pay. That’s not really true, in my opinion. Google ran shopping search for years without requiring payment. Did its technology get worse, over that time? It’s also hard to believe the same Google that can extract facts from pages across the Web to power its Knowledge Graph couldn’t have found a way to keep its free merchant feed submission process going.

Google also suggested that the quality of listings would get better by making this change. From its post last year:

We believe that having a commercial relationship with merchants will encourage them to keep their product information fresh and up to date. Higher quality data—whether it’s accurate prices, the latest offers or product availability—should mean better shopping results for users, which in turn should create higher quality traffic for merchants.

I didn’t find that to be the case when I explored Google Shopping soon after the change. Since that time, over the past year using the service from time-to-time, I also haven’t felt that things have radically improved. But I do know that if I search for the Xbox One, I get any number of confusing choices:


The only major retailer apparently selling them is WalMart. Beyond that, you can take your chances with eBay or smaller merchants. Clicking on the “Microsoft Xbox One” link with the lowest $499 price led me to this landing page from eCrater:

“No such product” the page told me. Well, that was a big waste of time — and an example that took me all of two minutes to find, to demonstrate that going all-paid with Google Shopping didn’t solve some of its woes.

The Impact Beyond Google

Google’s reversal, by the way, didn’t just have an impact at Google. Microsoft seized on the change to try and promote its Bing Shopping as a more pure experience, since it didn’t charge for all listings.

As best I can tell, consumers didn’t seem to care about that particular “Scroogled” message. And Microsoft, probably feeling the same economic pressures as Google — but without Google out there taking the high road — went down the new path that Google carved out.

Microsoft killed Bing Shopping entirely. In doing so, it also killed the way some merchants still got listed for free. Instead, it cloned Google’s Product Listing Ads for use within its regular Bing search results. For face-saving, it said that merchants might still get listed for free through via “Rich Captions.”

In reality, those aren’t shopping search listings. Those are regular listings with enhanced descriptions, just as Google may do within its own regular search results. We could split hairs and debate all this, but the bigger takeaway is that with Google happy to turn a once editorially-powered shopping search engine into an all-ads service, any remaining pressure on other search engines was gone.

That’s a huge shift for Google to have made for itself and for the repercussions across the industry. Who made that call at Google? Who knows, because we don’t know who is running search. I’ll get back to that, after looking at Google’s latest broken promise.

Broken Promise 2013: Banner Ads In Search

“There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or Web search results pages,” Google promised in December 2005, on its main blog, to reassure consumers concerned that its new partnership with AOL would somehow change the service. Eight years later, Google’s testing big banner ads like these:

You could argue that the promise was made by Marissa Mayer, who was vice president of Google’s search products and user experience at the time and who now, of course, has moved on to be CEO of Yahoo. But Mayer made that promise on behalf of Google. It didn’t somehow expire just because she left.

Reversal Of Vision

More importantly, the introduction of banners like these fly in the face of what Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, set out as their vision of how a good search engine should operate. From their 1998 academic paper outlining Google to the world:

For example, we noticed a major search engine would not return a large airline’s homepage when the airline’s name was given as a query. It so happened that the airline had placed an expensive ad, linked to the query that was its name. A better search engine would not have required this ad, and possibly resulted in the loss of the revenue from the airline to the search engine.

In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want. This of course erodes the advertising supported business model of the existing search engines. However, there will always be money from advertisers who want a customer to switch products, or have something that is genuinely new.

I’ve bolded two key parts. A better search engine wouldn’t require an airline to buy an ad — which would have been a banner ad, at the time — for its name. Indeed, showing an ad for its name might get in the way of the consumer finding what they want. That’s right out of the Google origin story. But 15 years later, either that no longer holds true or Google is simply too embarrassed to discuss why it makes sense to do so now.

And Google won’t discuss it. Similar to the change with paid inclusion, all Google will do on this issue is give a statement that acts as if its previous stance against banners, or advertisers having to buy ads for their own names, never happened:

We’re currently running a very limited, US-only test, in which advertisers can include an image as part of the search ads that show in response to certain branded queries. Advertisers have long been able to add informative visual elements to their search ads, with features like Media Ads, Product Listing Ads and Image Extensions.

The “Why” Behind Broken Promises

Again, poking at Google for its obviously broken promises is child’s play. To me, the far more interesting and important issue is why these promises have been broken and who is making the call.

The simple answer to the “why?” is that times change, and Google was foolish to have made promises that it couldn’t keep. If you need more examples of this, review Google’s long-standing “10 Things We Know To Be True” page, where it’s clear Google no longer thinks “it’s best to do one thing really, really well – we do search,” nor does “democracy on the Web” work when people have to do crazy things like disavow suspicious link “votes” they receive, lest they get blamed for wrong-doing.

The more complex answer is that things do change and require companies and products to adapt. Maybe it does make sense that Google shifted to a paid inclusion model for shopping search, despite its earlier stance against this. Maybe Page and Brin were naive to think that a bad search engine wouldn’t sell giant graphical units to brands for their own names, especially when brands themselves seem willing if not eager to buy.

But these were still dramatic changes in Google’s philosophy. You’d think they caused some internal debate. Was there anyone at Google saying that if giant graphical units at the top of search results are useful to searchers, then maybe Google should be offering those for free, to ensure a consistent experience for those searchers? Was there anyone at Google saying that maybe a shift to paid inclusion was a bad move for shopping and other search products, because it opens up every search product to that possibility?

I assume there must have been some debate. I sure hope there was. But if there was, Google hasn’t felt it worthwhile to explain these decisions in the way it once might have in the past, to the consumers and others who might care. Issues that were big enough to make loud, public statements about seem to deserve at least some public acknowledgment of a change of heart.

The “Who” & Fuzzy Management Of Search

It’s also unclear that if there was debate, who had the ultimate say over the decision. That’s because search, at Google, is a leaderless product.

Google’s most important product, search, has no one in charge? That seems to be the case. Let’s look at the Google management page:

It’s pretty clear who runs some of Google’s product areas. Sundar Pichai sits above hardware (Nexus products; Chromecast, Chromebooks) and software (Chrome, Chrome OS, Android). Salar Kamangar runs YouTube. Vic Gundotra runs Google+ and social efforts.

Who’s the person in charge of search products? You’d think that’s Alan Eustace, as he’s in charge of “Knowledge.” You’d also think that was a simple question for Google to confirm. But the company, despite me asking several times, wouldn’t do so — nor comment at all on this article and the issues I outlined within it.

Eustace was named the vice president of knowledge in 2011, as TechCrunch reported then about Google’s management reorganization. That means someone like Amit Singhal, who oversees Google’s search algorithms, should report to him. But does Johanna Wright, who oversees predictive search (think Google Now) out of the Android-side of Google’s house, also report up? How about Susan Wojcicki, who oversees ad products?

Ads aren’t some product that run independently of “Knowledge,” not when Google Shopping is indeed a consumer-facing search engine that people turn to for “knowledge” about shopping choices, nor when Google has long prided itself on the fact that its ads sometimes can be as useful to knowledge seekers as its unpaid listings (and this is true).

So who’s in charge, especially when the ad-side wants to do something that the search-side might not like. Again, Google had no comment about all this. Perhaps it runs up the ladder to Page for a final ruling. But it underscores, at least to this outsider who has watched Google since it started, that no one is really in charge of search. Instead, everyone seems racing forward in various areas — shopping, predictive search, Web page search, mapping — with no clear vision nor any clear ringleader about where they’re going.

Maybe Fuzzy Works?

The lack of a central vision doesn’t mean failure. I  wrote about the Google Hive Mind when the company turned 10. At 15, the Hive Mind may still be working fine, when it comes to search. Indeed, things like Google Now and Google Conversational Search are downright amazing. When search happens on multiple platforms (desktop versus mobile), and people have so many different needs (news, shopping, research) and interact with search in so many different ways (typing keywords, speaking a query, opening a map) trying to have a grand master plan might be foolish.

But the problem with fuzzy is also the lack of accountability. If Google does make a major change or goes in a new direction, who made that call? And who is going to explain it?

That’s the disappointing thing to me, with Google’s two-years-in-a-row of broken promises. Google made a huge deal that paid inclusion was bad, as a way to pitch itself to consumers and others as being better than the rest. It specifically used shopping search as an example of this — then years later, did a complete reversal with shopping search.

With banner ads linked to brand names, Google spoke against this as part of its origin paper, specifically using an airline as an example. It went on to say there would never be banner ads on Google. Then there are, even for an airline.

If these things were important enough to use as selling points, or to address to reassure consumers, then they should be important enough for Google to better explain why it made reversals. Reversals aren’t bad; it’s the failing to explain why you changed your mind that is.

And when there’s fuzzy management, when there’s no clear vision of where search is going as it once was espoused by Google, perhaps no one feels like they need to step up to do this.

The Star Trek Computer — After This Commercial Message

Actually, Amit Singhal has long expressed a Google vision of search, that of the Star Trek computer that seems to have an answer to everything. And sometimes, as with Google Now coming back with answers before I’ve even asked, it feels like we’re really getting there.

But here’s the thing. You never saw Captain Kirk ask the Enterprise’s library computer for an answer and be told it wasn’t available because someone didn’t pay to be included, or that it would be provided but only after a giant image was first displayed, even if that didn’t necessarily help with Kirk’s need.

The library computer wasn’t a for-profit operation, with many stakeholders involved. But that is Google today, and that’s how Google is going to be in the foreseeable future. The simplistic vision that Larry Page and Sergey Brin had back in the day when they started a search engine no longer exists.

Perhaps the Google that builds search through fuzzy management also no longer feels the need to explain some of its decisions as it once did. But to me, that’s a part of the old Google that should continue to operate.

It might not make good PR in the short-term, to explain your reversals, to explain why you make the admittedly hard-decisions. But that’s good PR in the long-term, to ensure the trust you’ve built with users over time isn’t allowed to slowly erode.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Features & Analysis | Google: Business Issues | Google: Critics | Google: Search | Search Marketing Column | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Ashish Ahuja

    Gr8 research Danny and very thought provoking article, should hopefully see some response from google. I have been with the google journey since its start and has loved it for most part, but google is slowly becoming the next microsoft, a company which people love to hate. Specially with recent changes like paid product search, not providing keyword data etc.

  • Maximilian Stroh

    In addition: i think People are aware of a decreasing google search quality and recognize the load of ads screaming for attention. Normally that decreasing quality would allow other companies to get some market share… but even with decreasing quality, google ist still too good. As a developer i really want to switch to an other search engine, but it’s a sad fact that for deeply specialized/really current questions in my field google knows best.

  • Pat Grady

    When they were young, they though money dirtied things up a bit… as they grew up, they read Milton Friedman, and realized it actually cleans things up nicely. A store with good stuff and good service and good signage can afford to pay per click, while poorly run stores can’t – pay to play money is a good motivator for both quality and efficiency. And since it’s per click, the small guy can still play. Nobody, big or small, can over reach, or under serve, or over price, or use sloppy feeds in the new ecosystem, or the invisible hand will jack slap them. Sure G makes some coin, why not, they are delivering value. But the real winners are consumers, as evidenced by how much they use it.

    It would not serve consumers to make it free. Go look at prices before and after, they are not higher now because of the added click costs, and the experienced data is cleaner, more accurate, and more trustworthy.

    Profit haters, read some Friedman would ya? In your own life, profits drive you to improve and deliver. And it serves your consumers better, just like G’s. If you had to do your job without being paid, would your quality and volume output improve?

  • Kyle

    I neither agree or disagree with some of the statements made in this article. However, from being an avid Google follower and after reading most of the articles/books out there about Google, I have to point out that Google seems to operate in a different manner than most companies. The work flow at Google is very laid back and has a “be your own boss” mindset with it’s employees. While banner ads have been implemented, the main thing Google talks about in the quote regarding banner ads is that the business MUST purchase the ad to be viewed in the results. Google’s approach is slightly different. The business purchases the ad to have it’s result displayed in a larger box that is more eye catching. It would still be displayed with the same rank had they not paid for the ad. Because Google’s business practices are so different from what we think of when we think about how business’s should operate, it can seem like Google goes against things they say, such as banner ads. But I believe Google is simply finding a way to implement these ads into search in a way that it allows certain results to be more eye catching when the company pays to have it that way. In regards to the response from Google, i would not hold my breath, Google is a very close lipped company and does not give away their unique business practices. No matter how much we want them to.

  • Kyle

    The real issue is not that it is costing consumer’s more for product search(which it is not) but the fact that not all products matching the keywords are being displayed. This is one area of the article that I easily see being an issue with consumers. However, I personally think that part of this change was to help Google moderate the results here. One change I have noticed since they implemented this change is that my results are more relevant and are not filled with “junk” results. A search for the Xbox One returns Xbox One’s, not Xbox controllers or games like the old search did(at least not to the extent of the pre-change search).

  • Pierre Gardin

    They were interested in money from day one. Otherwise they’d have finished their PhD’s, grow a beard, and teach students obsolete programming languages with course material written in TeX.

  • Dan Shure

    Alan must be head of search, I guess Google renamed “search” to “knowledge” in 2011?

    This article goes more into the leadership structure that they explained at the time.

  • Patrick Coombe

    Some really good points here Danny. Without any research, I’ve shyed away from using Google Product Search now for at least a year. It used to be “OK” but now its just ugh.

  • Stuart @

    Guess this is what happens when money becomes more important than user experience, yet Google keep telling us that we have to provide an awesome experience for our customers. Double standard?

  • LarryCohen2014

    Google’s become evil with all that anti-privacy push. And after NЅА scandals, I don’t trust them AT ALL.

    Degooglify yourself. Quit using that Chrome botnet, get another email service and use Startpage for search. Just don’t allow Google to accumulate even more data on you so they can give it to NЅА, Israel and other countries.

  • PStrohm

    Speak for yourself shill.

  • dhruva

    okay you are right..i dont have any issues with sponsored shopping results or banner ads, but google did renege on their promise. i say evil and they should come clean.

  • dhruva

    google shopping has always been ugh

  • David Rothwell

    Excellent article!

    To me, since 2009 when Merchant Center rose from the ashes of Froogle, and Product Extensions (with PlusBox) were born, it was absolutely obvious (even mandatory) that one day Google would be charging for inclusion in Shopping Results, even though it was free to start with.

    Just like Google works hard to maintain the quality of Organic Results, so to do they enforce this discipline in all other links showing up, specifically from paid sources.

    If your AdWords ads suck, you pay for it in the Stupid Tax. Then you either wise up or go broke and stop polluting the search results with rubbish. (Or figure out how to earn more than you spend).

    The same had to happen to Shopping Results, because there was initially so much crap there G had to get it fixed.

    Hitting people in the wallet usually works …

    Google is increasingly aware of the commercial value of keywords and clicks.

    If you’re selling stuff, as opposed to giving away useful, credible information attached to a real identity (why rel=author and G+ is so important) then it’s only fair to exchange advertising dollars on the World’s most advanced ad-serving platform for Sales.

    If you don’t know your numbers (most Businesses don’t seem to!) then you’ll still go broke, so again – wise up, stop paying the stupid tax, know how your Business actually earns a profit in exchange for ad dollars, then go forth and profit!

    I built an online Calculator designed to do just that.

  • Guy Redmond

    I like this rant….”You never saw Captain Kirk ask the Enterprise’s library computer for an answer and be told it wasn’t available because someone didn’t pay to be included…”

  • Mark

    Google won’t respond — they don’t care. Google’s only concern is appeasing shareholders, and that comes in the form of a for-pay-only search engine, which is coming along quicker as the years go by.

  • Jeremy McGill


    I see this change as natural evolution in a competitive market place. This is not Google in 2004, clearly a lot more is at stake. They built Google on solid fundamentals and I am OK with them tweaking some old promises in order to stay relevant. Look where stubbornness got RIM *cough* Blackberry, even Microsoft was stubborn to change. Anyway most of the original Google team is focusing their attention on Google X and machine learning. I am more interested in that stuff and not so much why they are displaying ads in front of me….

    Also, curious why you didn’t share this on Google+ ?…

  • wwd88888

    Google’s search results for anything not related to shopping have really degraded in quality to the point that I rarely use the service. Their “shopping” results are generally shoddy per what is described above.

    As much as I really like Android, Chrome, and some of the Google tools, the pervasive surveillance for marketing and state security keeps me away.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Like I said in the story, and agreed, things do change. But what also seems to have changed is Google’s view that it should explain why it has made such changes. That’s something I find disappointing, and that I think they ought to maintain. I also did share this on Google+, as well as Facebook and LinkedIn. I tweeted it when it came out on Sunday. I didn’t share in the other places on Sunday because it’s easier to share again on Twitter (as I did this morning), and I thought the share would be better seen on a Monday in the other places.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Yep, that’s in the article above, a link to that article and how supposedly he’s in charge of search. But as I also explain, that doesn’t mean he’s in charge of ads — and yet ads have an impact on search, are actually search when it come to Google Shopping, so that’s where the “fuzzy” nature comes in.

  • Edward Sheppard

    Read my lips – no banner ads in search.

    If you like your non-pay-to-play shopping search you can keep your non-pay-to-play shopping search. Period.

  • Danny Sullivan

    So Pat, that’s part of the message search engines that ran paid inclusion made to Google, when Google would call them out for somehow selling results. Google built part of its business around saying that this was bad, that you didn’t want that connection nor that you needed that connection, that it wouldn’t improve search. So what happened? Either Google was wrong, all those years — and didn’t want to admit that, or it was helpful for Google to achieve a dominant position where it could then make more money. Or a combination? Whatever the case, it didn’t want to acknowledge going back on its old promise. And, as the Xbox example shows above, sloppy feeds are still out there. Sending someone to a landing page with nothing on it is pretty sloppy. Well, it carries AdSense at times — so maybe arbitrage is in play.

  • Dan Shure

    Makes sense – in other words, who’s in charge of what the entire SERP looks like? That’s search + ads + knowledge graph + Google UX etc…

  • JH

    What about the promise of a level playing field for small sites? Do any consumer product search and page after page is now dominated by Overstock Target Wal Mart etc…This is something Google warned would happen if SOPA was passed. They did it on their own…At this point if you are no longer doing well in organic search you should cheat any way you can. We seem to get penalized when following Google guidelines so why bother to follow them? Hope they go broke. Google no longer gets a dime from me.

  • EricLayland

    Nearly 11 years ago I jumped all-in on search marketing because of the promise of levelling the field for advertisers. Banner ads, email, and microsites seemed so lame. The best, most relevant and clever companies regardless of their size could compete. The data was there and if you knew how to use it, success could be had. Google was cool! That seems oh so long ago.

    Great article Danny

  • Ric

    This is how I see them (dont care,) and when searching for different things I know Google doesn render well, I go elsewhere where the results are more democratic.

    Google has long lost its capability for catchall and shouldnt be ANYONES sole search resource.

  • Danny Sullivan

    The origin paper talks also about not showing ads that might be unnecessary. So, if Google thinks having banners for some branded, navigational-focused searches makes sense for the user, why charge for those? Shouldn’t that be what you do for the users period?

  • IRS Medic

    Google says it wants quality content. And will reward you handsomely. But all it seems to reward is spun garbage and wikipedia. I’m (nearly) done caring about impressing google.

  • hGn

    The truth has been said, Google isn’t anymore an information search engine, during the last 2 years it has become an Ad Search Engine. It is sad to see that at this moment Google isn’t capable anymore of finding deep answers to deep questions, SERPs now are nothing more than a real state list of big companies trying to sell you something, you have to deal and playing hard with long queries to find something interesting or said/posted/published for that smart little guy that nobody knows. The Google of these days forces you to tweak your queries many times to find something relevant or different to what the same 10 big-companies dominating SERPS have to offer. The truth is, Google is becoming so BORING, search results are always virtually from the same sources, meh! Have you tried Bing or Yahoo lately to find different sources? if not, seriously, you should give them a try to avoid falling on the Google’s humdrum results.

  • Andrew Goodman

    Indeed, that’s what Bing is currently beta’ing. Showing richer listings on brand searches, allowing companies to come in and curate them, and for now, no charge. Of course, eventually they will look to charge for it :)

  • Andrew Goodman

    Indeed, that’s what Bing is currently beta’ing. Showing richer listings on brand searches, allowing companies to come in and curate them, and for now, no charge. Of course, eventually they will look to charge for it :)

  • JH

    For me Google “ends” where prices in Hotel Finder are determined mostly by BID not PRICE – the thing most import for users. There is where you can clearly see how Income is more important than User. Look at trivago – offers 100% ordered by price. And also a CPC model. Google, the newcomers eat you with your own weapon – make information useful!!

  • Elexar

    Absolutely. They are in a spree to please wall street & perhaps wall street only. Sad to see a great, distinct company becoming one of the boys.

    This is one of the knobs that management turns to inrush immediate cash. But this instant gratification affects the goodwill they (& their awesome engineers) have so built for years…

    Sergey, would you care to listen, if I may request so?

  • John Hacking

    Google have had their time in the sun as Altavista and Yahoo did back in the 90s. Time to find a new search engine. Try and notice how clean and fast, and relevant it is :)

  • Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst

    It’s ALL about $$$ – sadly

  • Joel Chudleigh

    The first time I visited Google in London around 6 years ago I was taken aback by all of the security checks and procedures on entering the building. it seemed at contrast to the open and honest image portrayed by the search engine.
    It occurred to me then and also in light of your article that there is a great amount of fear within Google.
    They do some great stuff and I have to admit that Google shopping going paid was a bold move but probably a decision I could see myself making if I was in their position.
    Declining cpc’s in Adwords and the shift to peer to peer recommendations (social media) would scare the hell out of me if I had 42,000 people to pay as well as a load of shareholders to keep happy.

    I would be scrabbling down around the back of the sofa too, searching for any long lost coins regardless of whether it means reversals on old promises – we do what we have to do in tough times. Regardless of how it may appear (search market share etc) I am pretty sure that these are nerve wracking times for Google.
    I agree that if Google really cared about their users trust then they would be more open and up front about the reasons behind these changes. But I think that they did not for 2 reasons:
    1) 99.999% of people will never notice the reversal.
    2) These changes are completely at odds with the brand image that they have built up over so long so honesty carries too great a risk.
    I think that for things not to explode in their face they need to start re-positioning the brand as a bit more grown up – one that understand compromises rather than the young utopian.

  • CarlosVelez

    I hear what you’re saying, Danny, but you’re forgetting that Google is a publicly traded company. They’re primary responsibility is to deliver financial results to their shareholders. If that means screwing around with promises made when they were private, then so be it. They don’t have any responsibility to their users, eCommerce sites, nor anyone else for that matter.

    This doesn’t make Google “bad” or “untrustworthy”. It just makes them corporate and financially-driven. You could probably write a similar article about Facebook or Twitter.

  • James K.


  • Michelle Schenker

    Another Google keeps breaking its promise on: press releases as a short term ranking boost strategy. Matt Cutts came out in a video a year or so ago saying that Google would not longer view paid press releases as preferential in search results, yet they are still showing up regularly and boosting results that are not the best for the info seeker (deeper pockets is not always in the best interest of readers).

  • PStrohm

    Not really. Tell me if Google is accepting applications to shill for them.

  • James K.

    I’m confused now – do you think Larrycohen’s post was pro-Google? Or do you think he’s a shill for “everyone in the world’s privacy”?
    I don’t think “everybody in the world” is accepting applications to shill for them. So who is Larrycohen being paid to promote???? Startpage??

  • Alex Schenker

    No kidding, supper disappointing. Also, “link farming,” if done manually, still appears to be super effective. Ie. buying existing websites, even if they’re totally in an unrelated industry, and strategically placing backlinks to your site/page.

    How can Google expect us to play the “white hat” game if we’re losing $$ to the black hatters?

  • betam4x

    Bravo Danny, just found this article thanks to a third party forum. Makes me wish I could have attended SMX East this year, I miss your voice of reason in a world of chaos. (We couldn’t afford it due to budgetary constraints.) You’ve posted what several of us have known for some time. Google has been selling out, and it’s hurting everyone. I work for a small business that was impacted by the Google shopping change. Luckily for us it was a positive one (300% traffic increase, one one hundredth of one percent cost increase). However, I myself have been a googler since before most people even used the internet, and I find these trends disturbing. Bing makes it worse.

    Microsoft’s attempted cash grab (bing) is utterly and completely transparent (and both the company i have a day job with, and the users that visit my personal website, make that completely obvious. 95% of all my traffic comes from Google.)

    I think that we really need a new savior to keep the so called ‘giants’ on their toes. Unfortunately it isn’t microsoft (and i’ve been saying this since they’ve announced bing.) It needs to be someone without a wall street reputation in order for things to work (sadly.)

  • betam4x

    Bravo Danny, just found this article thanks to a third party forum. Makes me wish I could have attended SMX East this year, I miss your voice of reason in a world of chaos. (We couldn’t afford it due to budgetary constraints.) You’ve posted what several of us have known for some time. Google has been selling out, and it’s hurting everyone. I work for a small business that was impacted by the Google shopping change. Luckily for us it was a positive one (300% traffic increase, one one hundredth of one percent cost increase). However, I myself have been a googler since before most people even used the internet, and I find these trends disturbing. Bing makes it worse.

    Microsoft’s attempted cash grab (bing) is utterly and completely transparent (and both the company i have a day job with, and the users that visit my personal website, make that completely obvious. 95% of all my traffic comes from Google.)

    I think that we really need a new savior to keep the so called ‘giants’ on their toes. Unfortunately it isn’t microsoft (and i’ve been saying this since they’ve announced bing.) It needs to be someone without a wall street reputation in order for things to work (sadly.)

  • nagleonce

    This ought to be a business opportunity for Bing. But Bing has consistently failed to exploit Google’s weaknesses.

    Who’s running search at Bing, anyway? Last year Microsoft hired Mark Penn to turn Bing around. Nothing seems to have come of that, and Penn is now at Microsoft Advertising. Searching Bing for information about Bing’s management team turns up old articles from 2009-2010. Bing seems to be managed by someone in Microsoft Online Services, but they’re enough levels down from the top to be invisible.

  • philbutler

    My view is, the only reason Google has not had a massive search coronary failure is that there is no competition either willing, or prepared, or with other incentive to snatch the trust Google has lost. While this may seem a sour grapes view from someone who was a supporter, it’s also a fair assessment based on who I’ve talked to recently. It’s a good article Danny, I’m not sure the worst of Google’s forgotten promises are here tho.

  • Adam

    I agree – Google is less “Star Trek Computer” and more “Feed Cloud” in M.T. Anderson’s book:


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