Yelp's Newest Campaign: Asking Google To Do The Right Thing

from the don't-be-evil,-guys dept

Back in 2014, we wrote about a campaign by Yelp which it called “Focus on the User,” in which it made a very compelling argument that Google was treating Yelp (and TripAdvisor) content unfairly. Without going into all of the details, Yelp’s main complaint was that while Google uses its famed relevance algorithm to determine which content to point you to in its main search results, when it came to the top “One Box” on Google’s site, it only used Google’s own content. Four years ago, the Focus on the User site presented compelling evidence that users of Google actually had a better overall experience if the answers for things like local content (such as retailer/restaurant reviews) in the One Box were ranked according to Google’s algorithm, rather than just using Google’s own “Local” content (or whatever they call it these days).

As we noted at the time, this argument was pretty compelling, but we worried about Yelp using the site to ask the EU to then force Google to change how its site functioned. As we wrote at the time:

… the results are compelling. Using Google’s own algorithm to rank all possible reviews seems like a pretty smart way of doing things, and likely to give better results than just using Google’s (much more limited) database of reviews. But here’s the thing: while I completely agree that this is how Google should offer up reviews in response to “opinion” type questions, I still am troubled by the idea that this should be dictated by government bureaucrats. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised this isn’t the way Google operates, and it’s a bit disappointing that the company doesn’t just jump on this as a solution voluntarily, rather than dragging it out and having the bureaucrats force it upon them.

So while the site is fascinating, and the case is compelling, it still has this problem of getting into a very touchy territory where we’re expecting government’s to design the results of search engines. It seems like Yelp, TripAdvisor and others can make the case to Google and the public directly that this is a better way to do things, rather than having the government try to order Google to use it.

It took four years, but it looks like Yelp is at least taking some of my advice. The company has relaunched the “Focus on the User” site, but positioned it more towards convincing Google employees to change how the site handles One Box content, rather than just asking the government for it. This is a good step, and I’m still flabbergasted that Google hasn’t just done this already. Not only would it give users better overall results, but it would undercut many of the antitrust arguments being flung at Google these days (mainly in the EU). It’s a simple solution, and Google should seriously consider it.

That said, while Yelp has shifted the focus of that particular site, it certainly has not not given up on asking the government to punish Google. Just as it was relaunching the site, it was also filing a new antitrust complaint in the EU and again, I’m still concerned about this approach. It’s one thing to argue that Google should handle aspects of how its website works in a better way. It’s another to have the government force the company to do it that way. The latter approach creates all sorts of potential consequences — intended or unintended — that could have far reaching reverberations on the internet, perhaps even the kind that would boomerang around and hurt Yelp as well.

Yelp makes a strong argument for why Google’s approach to the One Box is bad and not the best overall results for its users. I’m glad that it’s repurposed its site to appeal to Google employees, and am disappointed that Google hasn’t made this entire issue go away by actually revamping how the One Box works. But calling on the government to step in and determine how Google should design its site is still a worrisome approach.

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Companies: google, yelp

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Comments on “Yelp's Newest Campaign: Asking Google To Do The Right Thing”

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9 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: From the top then

And like the Mugshot guys, you should, again not so much for the immediate case but what it stands to lead to in the future.

Their asking Google to do something is one thing, but that they’re trying to force Google to change how their search engine works via legislative pressure is something that should concern you, as the precedent it stands to set, that of it being acceptable for one company to force another to change how they do business because it would be more beneficial for the first company is not a pleasant one.

They can ask Google to change how their search engine works all day long, but leave the legal threats out of it.

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