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That bad lunch you had could be Google's fault

evan kypreos

by

google dinner

Google's in a spot of bother over its search engine yet again, as new research suggests it could be harming consumers with the way it displays search results.

It was charged back in April for promoting its own shopping aggregation service over other results, but this latest study (via WSJ) focuses on local search results instead.

That's the type you get when searching for a good place for a spot of lunch in London, for example.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Google often presents a table of restaurants based on Google reviews at the top of search results, just below paid-for ads. This pushes the organic results – pages that rank highly without paying for it – much lower.

The research showed that users are almost 50 per cent more likely to click on a result from Tripadvisor or Yelp on a merit-based search result page, as opposed to Google’s current results – where it’s own services are given pride of place.

Both pages were randomly displayed to 2,500 users and both were based on Google’s search algorithm. It argues that those results are better than Google's own recommendations.

“Stated simply, when it comes to local search, Google is presenting its users with a degraded version of its search engine,” wrote the authors.

The study, which also included economic analysis and legal insight, gets worse for Google.

The report continues: “… by leveraging dominance in search to promote its internal content, Google is reducing social welfare—leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches,” the authors wrote. And that the “empirical evidence” on offer “cannot be described as pro-competitive.”

It's important to note that the study was conducted by prominent academics in the US – Michael Luka of Harvard and Tim Wu of Columbia – and was sponsored by Yelp, one of the companies unhappy about the way Google promotes its local results when people use its search engine.

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The results provide “empirical evidence” that Google’s practice of promoting its own results have harmed consumers in some cases and therefore “cannot be described as pro-competitive.”

“The demonstration of consumer harm is, we think, an important conclusion…that should influence any competition law analysis,” the study concludes.

Have you had a bad experience based on a Google recommendation? Let us know in the comments.

If your Google-sourced lunches have been divine and you've still got love for the big G, why not check out our Nexus 6 smartphone review too?

DavieLand

June 29, 2015, 7:57 pm

A bad lunch is much more likely the fault of Yelp than Google. I am really surprised this story even warranted this space. Perhaps trustedreviews should print the study Rush Limbaugh sponsored about gay marriage. I am sure it was unbiased.

DavieLand

June 29, 2015, 7:58 pm

I am surprised nothing was said about this being a Yelp sponsored study.

Sean Keach

June 29, 2015, 9:38 pm

But the article does mention that it was a Yelp sponsored study

mothergoose85

June 30, 2015, 10:34 am

Other sites are carrying the story as well - it's more about the fact that you can't rely on the top search results to be the most relevant, which is the fundamental point of a search engine in most peoples eyes.

Lets say that the Google reviews of a restaurant were really positive and the trip advisor and yelp ones were average to low (and were possibly on the second page), users make not see the genuine results because the Google ones had been gamed.

Prem Desai

June 30, 2015, 11:22 am

I would have said the bad lunch experience is the fault of the restaurant serving it.

Still don't understand why people see something on the internet (Google or otherwise) and assume it's true - throwing all common sense out of the window.

If you go to a restaurant and the food is rubbish, send it back and/or walk out - you're within your rights to do this.

DavieLand

June 30, 2015, 2:11 pm

Is that any different than Yelp giving priority to advertisers? A restaurant can invite Yelp "elite" reviewers into a restaurant for free food and liquor and subsequently get great reviews. Thus a restaurant with great reviews only has a lot of stars because they gave away freebies to Yelp insiders and may not be better than the restaurant down the street. Is it fair to the consumer when reviews are manipulated? A California court ruled that Yelp had no obligation to show reviews in an unbiased manner. Yelp will use it's powerful SEO so you can not even find certain local businesses. It is one thing for Google to prioritize websites based on quality and it is quite another when Yelp gives visibility to businesses that might not deserve it. The whole point of the article is that Yelp is saying Google degrades a customer's experience when in reality, Yelp provides a less accurate picture of businesses. Yelp is crying because unless Google allows their listings, they can not charge restaurants for listings they never requested. Unlike Google, Yelp will not remove a unrequested listing which is not fair to businesses.

DavieLand

June 30, 2015, 2:17 pm

Yes, you are right, but you have to read 3/4 of the article to find that out. It is also based on the premise that Yelp reviews are better for the consumers than a Google web listing which is wrong because Yelp reviews have been proven many times over to be inaccurate, subjective and not always representative of the quality of a business.

mothergoose85

June 30, 2015, 3:34 pm

I have been educated, thanks Davie.

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