Whoops! Google claims ‘bug’ was pushing down competitor search results from Yelp and TripAdvisor

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Over the weekend, executives from Yelp and TripAdvisor noticed that Google was pushing restaurant, or POI results from its services down in favor of its own. Neither of the popular location information services was particularly pleased to see it happening, but Google claims it was due to a “bug” and that it will be fixed…just as soon as possible!

Yelp CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman noticed the problem when typing in ‘yelp Ozumo’, searching for Yelp info on a Japanese restaurant. Naturally, you’d assume by including the word ‘yelp’ in the search query, the first results would be those from Yelp. They weren’t. In fact, with some searches including that word, results were pushed almost to the bottom of the page, with Google’s own native results showing up right at the top in a big, attractive graphic. Needless to say, he wasn’t happy with the result:

[tweet https://twitter.com/jeremys/status/668553008637063168 align=’center’]

This tweet was posted in response to one from Stephen Kaufer, CEO of TripAdvisor who noticed a similar issue with a search for ‘tripadvisor hilton’. He also wasn’t best pleased with Google’s antics:

[tweet https://twitter.com/kaufer/status/668549459308097536 align=’center’]

Speaking to Re/code reporter Mark Bergen, a Google spokesperson claimed that these results were due to a bug, and that the company is working on a fix. They said “The issues cited were caused by a recent code push, which we’re working quickly to fix.” A story, I’m sure, neither CEO will completely believe.

Both companies are currently involved in the major EU antitrust case, claiming Google too often prefers results from its own services to those from companies like Yelp and TripAdvisor who specialize in this restaurant, hotel and places-of-interest results. In fact, many in Europe trust those two services more than most to read up on reviews and experiences before they decide to spend money on booking rooms or reservations.

“Google is now intentionally providing the wrong answers for local searches on the mobile Web,” said Yelp’s Stoppelman. “This is not good for consumers or for competition but good for maintaining Google’s monopoly.”

Yelp, TripAdvisor and Foursquare are among companies unhappy with the way Google’s search algorithms hide results from other companies, in favor of its own. FTC notes dug up by WSJ reveal that Google’s use of ‘co-corrence signals’ in search can recognize when results from competitor sites rise, and respond by surfacing Google products above them.

In the case of Yelp, according to internal documents, around one third of search terms including ‘yelp’ followed by a place of interest would end in Google diverting customers to its own result. TripAdvisor allegedly saw more than 50% of results being ‘misdirected’ in favor of the search giant.

While Google continues to push its mobile and desktop services to feature a better native experience, it goes without saying that other companies who may have benefitted greatly from search traffic will begin to see a drop. Still, it’s hard to overlook results being directed straight to Google’s own products when words like ‘Yelp’, ‘TripAdvisor’ or ‘Foursquare’ are specifically mentioned in the search term.

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