google it —

Google is sometimes hands-on under the hood, and investigators want to know more.

A large Google sign seen on a window of Google's headquarters.

Enlarge / Mountain View, Calif.—May 21, 2018: Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet.

Google, and its parent company Alphabet, has its metaphorical fingers in a hundred different lucrative pies. To untold millions of users, though, “to Google” something has become a synonym for “search,” the company’s original business—a business that is now under investigation as more details about its inner workings come to light.

A coalition of attorneys general investigating Google’s practices is expanding its probe to include the company’s search business, CNBC reports while citing people familiar with the matter.

Attorneys general for almost every state teamed up in September to launch a joint antitrust probe into Google. The investigation is being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who said last month that the probe would first focus on the company’s advertising business, which continues to dominate the online advertising sector.

Paxton said at the time, however, that he’d willingly take the investigation in new directions if circumstances called for it, telling the Washington Post, “If we end up learning things that lead us in other directions, we’ll certainly bring those back to the states and talk about whether we expand into other areas.”

Why search?

Google’s decades-long dominance in the search market may not be quite as organic as the company has alluded, according to The Wall Street Journal, which published a lengthy report today delving into the way Google’s black-box search process actually works.

Google’s increasingly hands-on approach to search results, which has taken a sharp upturn since 2016, “marks a shift from its founding philosophy of ‘organizing the world’s information’ to one that is far more active in deciding how that information should appear,” the WSJ writes.

Some of that manipulation comes from very human hands, sources told the paper in more than 100 interviews. Employees and contractors have “evaluated” search results for effectiveness and quality, among other factors, and promoted certain results to the top of the virtual heap as a result.

One former contractor the WSJ spoke with described down-voting any search results that read like a “how-to manual” for queries relating to suicide until the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline came up as the top result. According to the contractor, Google soon after put out a message to the contracting firm that the Lifeline should be marked as the top result for all searches relating to suicide so that the company algorithms would adjust to consider it the top result.

Or in another instance, sources told the WSJ, employees made a conscious choice for how to handle anti-vax messaging:

One of the first hot-button issues surfaced in 2015, according to people familiar with the matter, when some employees complained that a search for “how do vaccines cause autism” delivered misinformation through sites that oppose vaccinations.

At least one employee defended the result, writing that Google should “let the algorithms decide” what shows up, according to one person familiar with the matter. Instead, the people said, Google made a change so that the first result is a site called—which states on its home page in large black letters, “They f—ing don’t.” (The phrase has become a meme within Google.)

The algorithms governing Google’s auto-complete and suggestion functions are also heavily subject to review, the sources said. Google says publicly it doesn’t allow for predictions related to “harassment, bullying, threats, inappropriate sexualization, or predictions that expose private or sensitive information,” and that policy’s not new. The engineer who created the auto-complete function in 2004 gave an example using Britney Spears, who at the time was making more headlines for her marriages than for her music.

The engineer “didn’t want a piece of human anatomy or the description of a sex act to appear when someone started typing the singer’s name,” as the paper describes it. The unfiltered search results were “kind of horrible,” he added.

The company has since maintained an internal blacklist of terms that are not allowed to appear in autocomplete, organic search, or Google News, the sources told the WSJ, even though company leadership has said publicly, including to Congress, that the company does not use blacklists or whitelists to influence its results.

The modern blacklist reportedly includes not only spam sites, which get de-indexed from search, but also the type of misinformation sites that are endemic to Facebook (or, for that matter, Google’s own YouTube).

Why antitrust?

Google relying on human intervention, and endless tweaks to its algorithms as the WSJ describes, isn’t an antitrust violation. When it uses its trove of data from one operation to make choices that may harm competitors to its other operations, though, that can draw attention.

All that human intervention and algorithmic tweaking also affects advertising and business results, according to the WSJ. Those tweaks “favor big businesses over smaller ones,” the paper writes, “contrary to [Google’s] public position that it never takes that type of action.”

The largest advertisers, including eBay, have received “direct advice” on how to improve their search results after seeing traffic from organic search drop, sources told the paper. Smaller businesses, however, have not been so lucky, being left instead to try to figure out the systems either bringing them traffic or denying them traffic on their own.

Links to Google’s own features and properties also take up an increasingly large percentage of the search results page, the WSJ notes. For example, if you search for one of today’s chart-toppers, such as Beyoncé, you’re greeted with three large Google modules that take up more than half the screen real estate:

Most of the results on the page are Google modules (highlighted in red).

Enlarge / Most of the results on the page are Google modules (highlighted in red).

More than half of Google searches are now reportedly “no-click” searches, where individuals look only at the page of results and use the snippets on it rather than clicking through to any of the sources from which Google is drawing that information. That kind of use of data, among others, could be considered harmful to competition, since the company is using data collected from competitors to keep users from going to those competitors.

Google, for its part, disputed the WSJ’s findings throughout, telling the paper, “We do today what we have done all along, provide relevant results from the most reliable sources available.”


Did you know? SMX East is happening next week — November 13-14 in New York City — and there’s still time to buy your ticket.

This year’s agenda is the biggest one the Search Engine Land experts have ever created: 100 search marketing sessions covering SEO, SEM, CRO, agency operations (new!), local search for multi-location brands (new!), analytics, mobile, video, content, tools, and more.

You’ll also access interactive Q&A clinics, full-day training with leading brands including Google and Microsoft Ads, 30 market-defining vendors, exclusive networking events, delicious meals, free WiFi, the SMX mobile app, and downloadable speaker presentations.

The year is almost over… do yourself and your career a favor: Attend SMX East for the expert-led training and actionable tactics you need to generate awareness, drive traffic, and boost conversions in 2020 and beyond.

Ready to register? Smart move! If you book before November 13, you’ll enjoy up to $300 off on-site rates.

See you in NYC 🙂

Psst… Focused on meeting vendors and growing your network? Attend SMX with a free Expo pass to unlock the entire Expo Hall, sponsored sessions, training with Microsoft and Google, Q&A clinics, evening networking events, refreshments, WiFi, the mobile app, downloadable speaker presentations, and more. Grab your Expo pass now!

About The Author

Lauren Donovan has worked in online marketing since 2006, specializing in content generation, organic social media, community management, real-time journalism, and holistic social befriending. She currently serves as the Content Marketing Manager at Third Door Media, parent company to Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today, SMX, and The MarTech Conference.


Join us in two weeks at Search Marketing Expo — SMX East — November 13-14 in NYC, for 100 tactic-rich search marketing sessions, two new tracks devoted to agency operations and local search marketing for multi-location brands, empowering keynotes with Rand Fishkin, Google, and Microsoft Advertising, intimate training with industry experts, and invaluable networking that plugs you into a thriving community of engaging marketers.

Here’s a look at what’s in store…

Pick the pass that suits your goals and budget:

  • All Access: The complete SMX experience — all sessions, keynotes, clinics, networking events, and amenities. Book before November 13 and save $150 off on-site rates.
  • All Access Workshop (best value!): Maximize your learning with a full-day pre-conference workshop. Book before November 13 and save $300 off on-site rates.
  • Expo : Interested in growing your network and meeting vendors? This free pass gets you the entire Expo Hall, sponsored sessions, Q&A clinics, refreshments, select networking, WiFi, downloadable speaker presentations, the mobile app, and more. Book now and it’s free! (On-site rates cost $99.)

We guarantee you will walk away with at least one actionable tactic that can help bring your search marketing campaigns (and your career) to a new level of success.

Register now and I’ll see you in two weeks!

About The Author

Lauren Donovan has worked in online marketing since 2006, specializing in content generation, organic social media, community management, real-time journalism, and holistic social befriending. She currently serves as the Content Marketing Manager at Third Door Media, parent company to Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today, SMX, and The MarTech Conference.


Click traffic from the Google search partner network took two major blows in early 2019. The first was Yahoo’s move to begin showing only Microsoft Ads-powered sponsored listings following a more than a three-year stint in which some of Yahoo’s listings were powered by Google. The second was Google’s update to bring ads featured in image search out from the partner network and into the core Google Search Network.

Here we evaluate a sample of long-standing Tinuiti (my employer) advertisers to assess the effects of these changes to the share of Google Shopping traffic coming from search partners, the relative value and cost of that traffic, and what it all means for advertisers.

Search partner click share falls dramatically across device types

As you can see from the chart below, search partner traffic once accounted for a significant share of Google Shopping clicks, and in August 2017 was at 16% for desktop. In August 2019, that figure was just 3%, with share on tablets and phones at 2% and 1%, respectively.


About The Author


Register by next Saturday, October 5, to save up to $600 off on-site rates!

  • More

Search Marketing Expo – SMX East is happening November 13-14 in New York City… and Early Bird rates expire next Saturday, October 5!

Don’t miss out on up to $600 in savings on the only search marketing conference that’s programmed by the Search Engine Land editors.

You’ll get 90 tactic-rich search marketing presentations (including two new full-day tracks on agency operations and local search for multi-location brands), keynotes from Rand Fishkin, Google, and Microsoft Advertising, 8 interactive Q&A clinics, demos from 30 market-defining vendors, exclusive networking events, and so much more.

Ready to register? Get started here!

See you in NYC 🙂

About The Author

Photo booth picture of SMX East attendeesSMX® East, November 13-14 in NYC at the premier conference designed by search marketers for search marketers. You’ll meet prospective clients, partners, even future talent — it’s all possible at the largest gathering of SEOs and SEMs on the East Coast.

Here’s a look at the networking events in store:

Wednesday, November 13

Expo Hall Reception, 5:00pm – 6:00pm

After a full day of sessions and keynotes, unwind with a drink and delicious snacks in the Expo Hall. Mingle with fellow attendees, connect with market-defining vendors, and have fun!  This event is sponsored by Perficient Digital. (Open to all pass holders.)

Search Marketing Meetups, 6:00pm – 7:00pm

Choose from four interactive meetups covering agency life, technical SEO, multi-location search marketing, and professional development. (Open to all pass holders.)

  • Agency Meetup: Attend this exclusive meetup designed just for consultants and agency marketers. Join Search Engine Land’s editor-in-chief Ginny Marvin to discuss common obstacles and opportunities, share your own advice, and learn something new.

  • Technical SEO & Developers Meetup: Search Engine Land’s Detlef Johnson will lead a discussion about past, present, and future web development frameworks and technical search engine optimization issues that can affect success or failure. In this unique (and technical!) meetup, you’ll spend time discussing the topics that matter to technical SEOs and developers. 

  • Multi-Location Meetup: In this meetup, Search Engine Land contributing editor Greg Sterling will lead an engaging and collaborative discussion about the issues that matter to multi-location brands including the critical elements of an effective local strategy and the future of Google My Business and local search.

  • Professional Development for SEOs & SEMs Meetup: Join Jessica Bowman for an informal conversation on how to develop your professional skills in such a way that makes you the obvious choice for that next step up the workplace ladder. Discussion topics include how to stand out at meetings as a leader, strategies to earn colleague praise (which makes its way back to your boss), tips for delivering presentations like an executive, getting buy-in for new projects, advice for asking for a promotion or raise, and much more.

Open Perspectives, 7:30pm – 9:30pm

Open Perspectives, created by Microsoft, is focused on exploring principles of diversity, inclusion, and inclusive marketing. It’s the space where we can discuss deep and relevant issues and challenges that we all face with a focus on the experiences of underrepresented groups and their allies. We create an open environment where all are welcome and can contribute to the conversation. This event is hosted at Hudson Mercantile, 500 W 36 Street, New York, NY 10018. (Open to all pass holders.)

Wednesday & Thursday, November 13 & 14

Birds of a Feather Lunches

At SMX East, you’ll get more out of lunch than just hot, delicious meals. Sign up for one of our “Birds of a Feather” lunch tables for topic-driven discussion about specific areas of search. These tables are designed to let you continue the conversation with others who share your interests. Once you register, we’ll send you an invite! (Open to All Access pass holders only.)

Don’t miss your chance to share tips, talk shop, and grow your circle of professional contacts in a welcoming environment. Pick your ideal pass and register today to enjoy up to $600 off on-site rates.

I look forward to meeting you in NYC!

Psst… In addition to all of these networking events, you’ll access a firehose of content: 90 tactic-rich presentations on all-things search marketing, including two new full-day concentrations on agency operations and local search marketing for multi-location brands. See the agenda.

About The Author


Despite the rise of zero-click results, a new study (.pdf) from BrightEdge says organic and paid search still deliver far more traffic to websites than other channels, including social and display advertising. The company found that paid and organic search are responsible for “68% of all trackable website traffic.”  

Organic traffic growing. In fact, the percentage of traffic from organic search has grown in the five years BrightEdge has been conducting this research. In 2014, organic search delivered 51% of site traffic according to the company. That number grew to 53% this year with paid providing roughly 15%.

BrightEdge said the data were generated in May 2019 “from thousands of domains and tens of billions of sessions.” The company excluded direct traffic from the study.

The report breaks out traffic data by key verticals. For B2B sites, the numbers were even larger than more general traffic distribution. More than 75% of B2B traffic, according to BrightEdge, is coming from organic and paid search.

Comparing share of visits by channel

In a retail context, the distribution of traffic between organic search, paid and “other” was somewhat more evenly distributed, with other and paid each responsible for about 23% of visits, while organic search delivered 41%. Hospitality was similar, but with more traffic (31%) coming from other.

Social media traffic referrals flat. The report has little positive to say about social media, which has been flat (at ~5% of traffic) since 2014 according to the company. Media and entertainment was the one category where drove more traffic than that (8%).

BrightEdge also offers an estimated breakdown of revenue by channel for general traffic and in specific verticals. Overall the company says that paid and organic search are responsible for 72% of revenues for B2B and the other verticals. BrightEdge asserts that social media delivers less than 1% of revenue on average.

Why we should care. There are marketers who might dispute some of the social media findings. But assuming the report’s methodology is sound, it strongly affirms the continuing value of organic and paid search. Indeed, the sturdy persistence of organic search in particular seems to belie the many structural changes in the SERPs that have occurred over the past several years.

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.


the brand new SMX East agenda… a firehose of 70 sessions covering all aspects of integrated search marketing: SEO, SEM, agency operations and management, local search marketing for multi-location brands, CRO, analytics, attribution, content, video, mobile, tools, and beyond.

But I know that for some of you… 70 sessions (in two days?!) isn’t enough.

SMX Workshops were designed for over-achievers like you. These immersive training seminars, hosted by recognized industry experts, are the perfect way to kick off your week in NYC.

Join us on Tuesday, November 12 from 9:00am – 5:00pm for your choice of full-day, in-depth workshops including:

Advanced SEO Training

Spend a day with a master SEO and come away with cutting-edge SEO techniques – tackling RankBrain, voice search, AMP, featured snippets, and more – that can help raise your rankings and visibility in search engines. Learn more here.

Workshop Presenter: Bruce Clay

Advanced Google Ads Training

Even with all of the new marketing channels that have opened up over the years, Google Ads (formerly AdWords) is still the core of many companies’ interactive campaigns. If your PPC campaigns are not running efficiently, it can have a drastic impact on your bottom line. Join Brad Geddes for a full day of advanced Google Ads training and discussion that will teach you not only the best practices but also advanced concepts and strategies that are based on a decade of research and testing. Learn more here.

Workshop Presenter: Brad Geddes

Hardcore Technical SEO Tactics & Techniques

Do you deal with big SEO problems? Do you work in a large enterprise, or have a site with millions (or billions) of web pages? If so, the basic SEO training material is not what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the master class, the one that is loaded with advanced content. Topics include how to analyze and solve a variety of thorny technical SEO challenges, how to create and implement progressive web apps, PWAMPs, how to understand the impact of machine learning and AI on search. Learn more here.

Workshop Presenter: Eric Enge

In-House SEO Exchange

Join Jessica Bowman for a full-day of “open the kimono” knowledge sharing in the only event designed by in-house SEOs for in-house SEOs. Because attendees are all in-house SEOs, the walls come down and you get to talk to the people actually doing SEO at the big brands, build relationships, and share solutions that you would normally only hear behind closed doors. There is no other workshop with this level of sharing! Learn more here.

Workshop Presenter: Jessica Bowman

Content Marketing for SEO (new!)

Struggling to get your marketing team on board with why and how to do content marketing for SEO — in such a way that helps achieve organic growth? This workshop is for you. Speaker, author, and leading expert Michael Brenner will discuss the SEO context and business case for content marketing. He’ll walk you through a roadmap that any SEO expert can use to get their marketing teams on board to deliver the organic reach, engagement, and conversions clients demand. Learn more here.

Workshop Presenter: Michael Brenner

Video for Search Marketers (new!)

Video is dominating the content landscape, but because traditional video production is expensive, complicated, and slow, it’s often underutilized by many search marketers. Join marketing and video expert Michael Hoffman for a full-day workshop exploring the best practices and secret hacks for making video a powerful driver of both organic and paid search programs. You will also learn how to leverage new and lower-cost ways to produce video that you can use to quickly scale your video marketing campaigns. Learn more here.

Workshop Presenters: Michael Hoffman and Rami Atassi

Search Marketing Boot Camp

Search marketing can be overwhelming when you are just starting out. That’s why we created the Search Marketing Boot Camp — a one-day pre-conference experience set of sessions that will prepare you to implement traffic- and revenue-boosting search marketing techniques immediately. It’s perfect for those new to search marketing or needing a refresher! Learn more here.

This is your chance to learn from some of the smartest search marketers on the planet. Don’t miss out!

Ready to register?

There are two different ways to attend depending on your goals and budget:

  • All Access Pass Workshop (best value!): You’ll unlock the complete SMX East experience, including all sessions, keynotes, networking, exhibitors, and amenities, plus your choice of workshop. Register now to save $900 off on-site rates!
  • Workshop Only: Interested in just a workshop? Register now to save $450 off on-site rates. (Your pass transforms into an Expo pass once the workshop is over – that means you’ll access the complete Expo Hall, all market-defining vendors, select networking, refreshments, WiFi, and more.)

So — which workshop will you choose? Register now and I’ll see you in NYC!

About The Author


Facebook has been testing ads in its search results for more than six months, but only with a select few advertisers. Now that test is finally expanding.

In December, Facebook gave a small group of automotive and retail advertisers the ability to run ads in the platform’s primary search results and Marketplace search results. At the time, a Facebook Product Manager Zpheb Hajiyani said it was a small test and that the company would be evaluating if the ads were beneficial before expanding the placement option. Several marketers started noticing the search placement option showing up in their accounts this week.

Wenograd, vice president of marketing strategy at Aimclear, and Steven Johns, marketing consultant at Door4, said that they saw the search ad placement option showing up in accounts this week.

“It appears as a placement item,” said Wenograd, “Interestingly, you can target it as a stand-alone placement. You don’t seem to be required to target the Feed, as well, in order to enable it.”

Johns shared screenshots on Twitter of the option for both News Feed search ad placements and Marketplace search ads.

What Facebook says. When asked if the Search ads were getting a broader roll-out to more advertisers, Facebook Product Manager Jason Rudin echoed what the company said about the ads when it began testing them at the end of last year: “We continue to test placing ads in Facebook search results and are evaluating whether these ads are beneficial for people and businesses before deciding whether to roll them out more broadly.”

Who’s eligible and when do the ads show up? Facebook search ads are still limited to a small group of retail, auto and, now, e-commerce advertisers. The ads will appear in search results for queries deemed to have the same commercial intent — advertisers cannot select keywords or phrases for search ad campaigns.

The ad format is similar to News Feed ads, and include a headline, image and copy text. The ads also include a “Sponsored” tag, and product catalog sales, conversions and traffic objectives are supported.

Why we should care. As Facebook’s ad inventory continues to become more saturated, finding new ad placements is a win for both Facebook and advertisers. Having the option to run ads in Facebook’s search results — both in the News Feed and Marketplace — opens up a new opportunities, particularly for SMBs and service providers that will be able to reach engaged users searching for their services.

About The Author


There are widespread complaints in the Google forums about the search results not fully rendering when a search is done. This seems to be happening for some searchers on mobile. Google has confirmed the company is working on a fix.

Google’s confirmation. Google posted on Twitter at 3:30pm ET, “We’re aware that for some people, our search results page might not be fully rendering. We’re actively working to resolve this bug.”

We’re aware that for some people, our search results page might not be fully rendering. We’re actively working to resolve this bug.

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) July 24, 2019

What the bug looks like. Here is one of many screen shots from the Google forums with complaints about this issue.

Why we should care. If searchers cannot see the search results, even if that is a small percentage of Google searchers, that can lead to a drop in traffic to your web site, which may lead to fewer leads and sales and less revenue for your company. Of course, Google wants its search results to render, so it is working fast to fix the issue.

About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.