A formal antitrust investigation into Googles search, ranking, and advertising practices has been launched by the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union.
The European Commission will investigate 4 allegations.
1. Google Manipulates Organic Search In Its Favor
Google would have abused its search might by selectively lowering the organic search rankings of competing services. Additionally, Google would then have boosted the placement of its own vertical search services, placing them ahead of the competition.
Guilty or Not?
This kind of thing has long been suspected by some SEOs but is hard to proof. The best and so far most convincing case was made by Ben Edelman in Hard-Coding Bias in Google "Algorithmic" Search Results where he demonstrates that Google services will rank in very unnatural ways when compared with any other way the search engines seems to rank web pages.
The Google Health Topics page thus reveals a remarkable combination of characteristics:
1) complete, 100% success at achieving the top-most algorithmic search position for all terms where Health results appear at all,
2) complete, 100% success at achieving this top-most position for every single one of the 2,642 keywords Health elected to write about, yet
3) complete, 0% failure as to even the tiniest variations of listed terms.
These characteristics are inconsistent with ordinary algorithmic web search.
Google usual own stance on their organic search product is No manual intervention:
"Does Google manually edit its results?" Let me just answer that with our third philosophy: no manual intervention.  The final ordering of the results is decided by our algorithms using the contributions of the greater Internet community, not manually by us.
– Amit Singhal, Google Fellow
Now I emphasized that this is Googles usual stance because in its official response Google does not, this time, stress that its search results are purely automatic. Susan Wojcicki (Senior VP Product Management) and Udi Manber (VP Engineering) lay out no less than 5 principles that guide Googles business but fail to mention what Amit called Googles third philosophy.
The case has always been suspicious but unless someone in Google would make a really good response explaining why Ben Edelmans research doesnt show what it implies, Google sure as hell looks guilty here.
2. Google Manipulates Drives Ad Prices Competitors Up By Lowering Their Quality Score
Quality Score is one of the factors that help set the price for your ad on Google. Lower Quality Score, higher price.
The allegation here is that Google selectively and manually lowered the Quality Score of competing vertical search services, driving up their price and lowering their position and thus visibility.
Guilty or Not?
I alluded to this situation in Google Boutiques & The Improved Google Vertical Model where I showed " unrelated to this story " that Google Adwords advertisement bought by Google for its own products appears frequently and often at the (most expensive) top spot and asked Quick, heres an envelope: how much can you bid on your fashion item Adwords term to outbid Google for those top spots?
Harder to demonstrate but it looks suspicious. I dont expect this part of the investigation to go anywhere unless they would have a Wikileaks-style whistle blower who will dump some Philip Morris type internal documents showing that this is what was happening.
3. Google Locks Our Other Ad Services Through Exclusivity
The open-and-shut part of the formal investigation: Google is suspected of forcing competing advertising services out of the market by putting the obligation on ad publishers to not include certain type of other, competing, ads on their web sites.
Guilty or Not?
Unequivocally guilty as charged. Up to early 2008 the Adsense program policies stated:
If You have elected to receive content or Site-based Ads, You further agree not to display on any Serviced Page any non-Google content-targeted advertisement(s). If You have elected to receive Search Results on any Site(s), You agree that Google will be the exclusive provider of Internet search services on such Site(s).
4. Google Locks In Advertisers By Preventing Data Export
By not allowing publishers to export their advertising campaign data to competing services, Google maintains a grip on a number of large advertisers.
Guilty or Not?
Probably guilty-ish but this seems like an oh, lets throw this in there too kind of allegation.Some data can be exported and if it cannot be exported directly to a competing service, maybe the competing service should make sure to be able to work with it?
What This Means For You
Dont expect an outcome any time soon. While it doesnt take rocket science to run a search engine, it does take huge number crunching and having a commission of non-experts wrap their hand around that via the translated and interpreted explanations from hired mathematicians will take
ages eons time.
SEOs will closely watch this case for crumbs of ranking information that might fall on the ground: inflected knowledge is better than none.
But business owners and marketers have nothing to go on. The investigation itself doesnt herald a change in the search engine marketing world; even when found guilty on all charges Google will, for the foreseeable future, remain most web sites largest traffic driver.
My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.