An article in the Washington Post reports that Microsoft is launching an attack on Google, gleefully warning searchers that this previously trusted information source has changed the algorithm for the “Shopping” search feature results such that only those firms that pay to be listed show up. Although paid search and “sponsored” search results show up on the right side and in a shaded region at the top of ordinary search results, Google prides itself on the objectivity with which its “organic” (merit based) search listings are determined.
For many years, Microsoft has attempted to take share away from Google in the search engine market. Despite the tremendous resources that Microsoft has available, its Bing search engine has very limited traffic relative to Google. Some people may end up with Bing as their default search engine when they buy a new computer where this setting is made in Internet Explorer, but otherwise, few searchers seem to make the move to Bing despite its touted advantages. Getting people to try out Bing out of fear that Google search results in the “Shopping” section may be “manipulated” could be a powerful way gain trial among consumers who may be vaguely aware of Bing but never took the time to try it out. Realistically speaking, most searchers probably will not feel much difference between the two search engines. Some people may turn out to prefer Bing for idiosyncratic reasons and may stay. Others may find Bing interesting as way of getting variety. Some may stay with Bing in protest.
In its newly created web site Scroogled, Microsoft chastises Google: “In the beginning, Google preached, “Don’t be evil“—but that changed on May 31, 2012. That’s when Google Shopping announced a new initiative. Simply put, all of their shopping results are now paid ads.” Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are quoted saying that “Furthermore, advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results” to underscore the ominicity of Google’s policy.
The reality is that only a minority of shoppers actually use the “Shopping” feature of Google. Most consumers, even when they are looking to buy, tend to use the ordinary Google search. The “Shopping” feature does not even show up on the first level menu on Google; you have to click on “More” to get that as a search option. This will, of course, bring up paid search results along with the merit based listings, but that is nothing new and is not different from a Bing search.
Although screen layout is subject to constant change, at the moment, the Google “Shopping” page does not appear to acknowledge the paid nature of search results. However, in sharp contrast to the “clean” look of the general Google search page, the search screen does look a lot more “commercial” and cluttered. Thus, although consumers may or may not infer that the search results are paid, the consumer may nevertheless get the impression that this may somehow be a less “pure” search.