According to a recent study, Google may have placed ads for its own products at the top of its search results pages.
Advertising metrics analysis firm Semrush conducted a study for The Wall Street Journal, analysing 1,000 search result pages for 25 keyword phrases. Among the search terms were queries for laptops, watches and speakers.
Semrush found that, among the total 25,000 search pages, ads for Google products dominated 91 percent of the ad slots at the top. However, a spokesperson for the company insisted Google adheres to strict regulations when selling ad slots. “All our bids are excluded from the auction when determining the price paid by other advertisers and we have strict rules and processes – set to tougher levels than our customers – to govern the use of our own ads products,” he said.
However, the results of the study seem to indicate that Google, and other subsidiaries of parent company Alphabet, received special placement on search result pages. According to The Wall Street Journal, advertisement for Google’s Chromebook topped all 1,000 pages of the search for “laptop”. In addition, 98 percent of pages for “watches” displayed links to buy various Android smartwatches.
Even though the smartwatches are products of various tech companies, the Android platform itself is owned by Alphabet. The study also found that searches for “smoke detectors” showed ads for Nest, another subsidiary of Alphabet that builds IoT hub devices.
Semrush noted that, once the results were shared with Google, many of the existing ads for its products disappeared, instead replaced by advertisements for competing tech companies like Samsung, Lenovo, and Apple.
This isn’t even the first time the search giant has been accused of malpractice. In July last year, the European Commission accused Google of using its Internet dominance to stifle competition in the online shopping space, something the company vehemently denied.
Some experts instead believe that Google is playing by all the rules; they’re just willing to pay more for targeted ads. “We think when we look at the screen that Google is placing its ads above others but advertising doesn’t work in that way,” said Daniel Knapp, senior analyst at IHS. “The method of the experiment may also be flawed,” he added.
Knapp clarifies that advertising auctions are not presided over manually, instead they’re controlled by algorithms. “We live in an algorithmic world,” he said. “How are these algorithms making decisions on our behalf and how is that distorting markets and society in general? This is an example of a much bigger underlying issue.”