In a move that is likely to raise more concerns about anti-competitive behavior, Google has begun listing its Google+ brand pages on its search engine results page.
The page listings, which were noted today by researcher BrightEdge Technologies but previously reported by All About Content, include promotional messages from the brands, producing what is essentially an advertisement for the brand, as well as Google's social network. The search engine listings seem to be appearing for only a few brands with Google+ pages, such as Macy's and AT&T.
A search for T-Mobile produces a Google+ brand listing promoting a Google music sale and an Android app for the social network:
"This increases exposure of brands' Google+ pages to the billions of people using Google search around the globe," said the researcher, which has been tracking Google+ brand page adoption since the feature launched early last month.
Google's search results have come under increased scrutiny lately, with competitors complaining to a Senate antitrust subcommittee that the Web giant "doesn't play fair" and "rigs" search results. Two members of that panel yesterday urged federal regulators to investigate whether Google unfairly promotes its own properties in search results.
Google defended the inclusion of the brand pages as part of an effort to give users the best answers to their queries.
"The creation of a page will not influence your ranking in web results. We are always improving our algorithms to provide the most relevant search results," a Google representative said in a statement to CNET. "While Google+ Pages will be ranked like other search results, content from a page, such as recent posts, may appear as annotations attached to its associated Web page under the sitelinks when the latter appears as a regular search result."
Adoption of Google+ brand pages among top brands has increased 17 percent in the past month, BrightEdge reported. Some 77 percent of the top 100 brands have brand pages on Google's social network.
Meanwhile, 93 percent of the top brands have official fan pages on Facebook, the researcher reported. Interestingly, some companies have Google+ pages but no official presence on Facebook. On that list are IBM and Vodafone (and, of course, Google).
Updated at 4:20 p.m. with Google statement.