Google is arousing the anger of rival search providers who argue that the company is intentionally and unfairly ranking content from its own specialized search services above their own.
The complaint centers on searches for specialized or local content, such as travel services, health sites, and reviews of local restaurants and businesses. In the past, users searching on Google for such content were typically directed to specialized search providers, companies like TripAdvisor.com, WebMD.com, and Citysearch.com.
But as Google has increasingly ramped up its own specialized search services, these companies believe the search giant is stacking the deck by purposely ranking its own content above theirs, a complaint cited in a story out today by The Wall Street Journal.
This means that a search for health services would more likely point a user to a site like Google Health over WebMD or a search for a mortage would direct someone to one of Google's own mortgage-related pages ahead of a site like Bankrate.com.
Google was quick to defend its local and specialized search methods in a blog post today, shortly after the Journal article appeared. The company said it tries to provide people with answers as quickly as possible, which sometimes means a link to a business and other times a map or list of review sites.
The recent complaints may have been fueled by new Google features, such as its Place Pages, which launched earlier this year. The service is designed to direct users to local business listings. But pins that appear next to the businesses displayed on a map link more prominently to their own Web sites or to more detailed Google Place Pages ahead of business review sites offered by rival search providers, according to the Journal.
Two weeks ago, the European Commission announced that it was launching an antitrust investigation against Google over this same issue. Based on complaints from three specialized search providers, the probe will look into whether the search giant is unfairly manipulating results for both paid and unpaid searches to favor its own services.
Ultimately at stake is a greater chunk of ad revenue, which Google stands to capture at the expense of the specialized search providers.
"Google does seem to be chasing us and I don't like it one bit," TripAdvisor Chief Executive Officer Stephen Kaufer told the Journal, who added that he's been working with Google for a couple of months to try to improve the situation.
In defense of its Place Pages, the company said that the service offers people an easy way to compare different places and find sites with local information. Google added that it's heard from users, businesses, and Webmasters alike who find Place pages useful.
And in a not-so-subtle nod to the complaints from its rivals, the company noted in its blog that Google was built for users, not for Web sites.