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Google’s battle for dominance

By Laurie Bennett

July 7, 2011 at 11:22am

Is Google becoming the vampire squid wrapped around the Web? (1)

The company’s annual report to shareholders mentions the “intense competition” it faces. Although the battle is fiercer in some sectors than in others, Google faces competitors on every front. And yet, it chooses to do battle on so many fronts.

Google handles about two-thirds of all search engine traffic, according to Comscore.

Nearly all its revenues come from advertising, not only from search results pages, but ads on Gmail, YouTube and external sites through Google AdWords.

The company is extending its already enormous reach through Android smartphones and the recently launched social networking site, Google+.

Although it has developed many technologies in house, it has cash for acquisitions, including YouTube (video sharing) and DoubleClick (online advertising).

Now, in preparation for an FTC antitrust investigation, it is again tapping outside expertise, hiring a dozen lobby firms. (See our Google lobby map.)

Competitors complain that Google search unfairly keeps users away from their sites in order to boost company ad revenues.

Google maintains that it puts the users first and believes they should have choice.

“When it comes to search, competition is always just a click away,” the company states on a page titled “Facts about Google and Competition.” “We innovate rapidly to make sure people keep choosing Google, and in the end that’s great for consumers.”

At this stage of web evolution, search is also about brand strength. Few users have the time to carefully measure results of Google vs. Bing vs. Yahoo. And they don’t know what is out there until they find it.

Google, on the other hand, has an intricate monitoring system that enables it to keep a close eye on sites across the web - not only with search bots and search result clickthroughs, but with Google AdSense impressions and Google Analytics, a free app that many sites use to monitor their web traffic.

It has become not only an indexer, but a traffic monitor and a ranker of content. Changes in the algorithms that create those rankings can send tsunamis across the web.

As Google writes on its webmaster site, search algorithms seek to downplay “shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful.” (Have to wonder how that sentence would score on the “poorly written” scale.)

Can quality of information be reduced to a set of mathematical equations?

Most journalists would say “no,” but journalists are losing the argument.

For the moment, at least, Google has become the supreme arbiter of content, a very powerful position, indeed.

Full disclosure: Muckety runs Google Adsense advertising, has a currently inactive AdWords account and, like most web publishers, has suffered the vagaries of Google search.

(1) HT to Rolling Stone, for its description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”

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