Search engine self-promotion endemic, says SEO expert -

With the recent news that Google tampers with its search results to bump its own listings to the top, TechEye spoke with a search engine optimisation (SEO) expert and discovered that this tactic is widespread within the industry.

We spoke to Aaron Wall from SEObook.com, who, when faced with the question “does Google hard code its own search results for self-promotion?” answered: “Absolutely.”

“I think Ben's piece highlights how they do that in select verticals well,” he said, referencing researcher Ben Edelman who exposed the Google practice in a recent report. “They perhaps try to do that mostly to search verticals rather than the core search algorithm. However, even the core of search infrastructural changes might also rely on business opportunities.”

“For example, Google believes that when they launched universal search (to promote news, videos, and other select verticals) they only decided to launch that after they acquired YouTube

“Also, around the time Google was considering buying Yelp they started to include star ratings from Yelp on some AdWords ads. After that purchase fell through those star ratings started pushing Google review ratings & Google re-aligned local search results to promote Google place pages (and the businesses that have Google place pages).”

So what does this mean for SEO? “In markets where Google is using more of the search results for themselves it of course makes it harder for 3rd parties to gain access to that traffic without buying ads,” said Wall. More ads means more revenue, which means Google benefits two-fold from the sneaky self-promotion tactics.

This approach is not limited to Google, however. Wall pointed out that self-promotion is endemic among most of the leading search companies. “Some of the other search engines are even more aggressive than Google is at promoting select verticals,” he said. “Most of the other leading search companies were built out of web portals & promotion of the portal has been a core search strategy for many years.”

Wall said “what makes Google remarkable in doing what others [are] doing is the huge share of the search market Google owns.” In other words, Google's dominance in the market means its every move is open to scrutiny, and that means that questionable tactics employed by it are more likely to hit the headlines than similar practices by smaller firms that simply slip under the radar.

He cited Ask.com as a good example of this tactic at work. “They fill some of their own search results with listings from some of their own properties,” said Wall. “They include things like question and answer mashups, lead generation forms, premium placements for select IAC companies, and so on.”

Wall had some stark words to share about the future of search engines: “The truth is that as search engines become media companies and ad networks they will become increasingly conflicted with promoting internal customers.”