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"Google has long been an advocate of “build great content”; however, in reality, it’s turning into “build great content … and if we like it we’ll take it from you, put it on our pages, and deprive you of that traffic."Great post from Michael on this.  We as SEO's, designer and website owners need to stand up and talk more about this.  It will just get worse with Rich Snippets.
Comments17 Comments  


from AlanBleiweiss 4109 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Michael brings up a serious marketing and sales red flag here.  It's a similar issue to the one I brought up on my blog where I rail against the new Google AdWords Contact Forms but clearly what Michael points to is much more serious given how prevelant it is in the Organic results.  Anyone who knows anything about marketing should realize this.

from Dugdale 4109 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I am not worried about Google publishing store hours, but the idea that they are displaying reviews with AdSense on the page has me worried.

The trend of what they are displaying in the SERPS more and more is distrubing. It really is getting to the point where Google is "stealing" content for their own gain.

Perhaps someone from the governement should send Google a letter asking what is going on. Perhaps if Google knows the gov't is looking in to it they will slow this distrubing trend.

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from Michelle 4109 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@dougdale I wouldn't count on the gov't to look unfavorably upon anything Google does at the moment. Publishers are going to need more vocal if they are interested in protecting their content. It's a double edged sword for everyone however. And I'd love to see some research about this kind of Google creep - sites with good steady traffic from Goog - and controlling for variables that could otherwise affect traffic - see what kind of drops are seen as more and more of their traffic driving content gets assimilated into Google's own information display.

Conversely, would be interesting to know if there are no negative effects. One twitter exchange on this topic (led by @netmeg) makes the valid point that customers and ROI are the only thing that matter - however those customers get through your door - whether your own listings or Google's AdSense wrapped mashups. So if your traffic directly from Goog listings drops, but your bottom line sees no similar drop - are you harmed?

Datasets? Anyone? Bueller??

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from dannysullivan 4109 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I'm sorry -- Google gives away the hours of a business? Like this was private, protected information?

Really, more laughable is getting upset that damn that Google, they listed your public phone number. That they probably extracted from a public white pages listing. That they licensed. And that you could get in other places -- but if Google does it, well, that's a nice rant topic. And how inconvenient for the customers of that store, to do a search for it and find the number. Especially because they should have the ability to claim their listing and change that number to a custom one of their choosing. Which they could then track, if they really wanted to. Damn!

I mean, if someone calls the aquarium, they could never get upsold in the way they could on the phone. Apparently, it's impossible to upsell on the phone. The technology is too old.

Honestly, this read like a weak excuse for Michael to attack Google. It is a serious concern that search engines in general are extracting more and more information from pages to provide direct answers. But I don't see a lot of stealing in listing public information (a store address, phone number, hours) at the top of the page.

Hijacking the listing? Well, if I click on that top listing, I go to the business site (bad page in that example, but when I search, I see a different listing for the same business). Get directions takes me to a map -- um, that kind of makes sense. The More Information link does lead me to a map places page. OK, finally, I can kind of agree that Michael might have a point - though am I wrong, or has the owner claimed that page an enhanced it.

And as a user, um, was it kind of handy for me to see all those warning that you shouldn't visit this place in the reviews.

The reviews, by the way, I talked to Google about this recently, concerned that they are quoted so much. Turns out, the review sites can opt out if they want. They don't apparently want to, right now.

That goes to the permissions thing that Michael raises. Hey, if you don't want your review in there, to my understanding, you can block it.

Geez, what's next. Let's do a search on Google and get upset that it lists web pages?

Google can definitely go over the top with some of its assumption. I just feel like if it's going to be attacked, make sure you spend your rant capital with solid examples that can't be so easily knocked down.

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from graywolf 4109 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Let's cut to the chase who should be listed first for the Miami Seaquarium ... Google or the Official Miami Seaquarium site? You really want to back the idea that a Google page should be listed first? How about when they start doing it for you, or search engine land, or the SMX conferences ... slowly but surely it's going to creep into other industries, unless we all start raising a hand in protest.

I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it when a user posts a review, in a forum or in a website like this, they still own the content, but are granting a soft licence to the site owner to display that content. If the user wants to take it down and can legally establish they are the owner, the site has to comply. AFAIK there's nothing in anyone's terms of service that they are granting the google the ability to list the content or review they submit. I think I'm also pretty safe assuming that google hasn't contacted the owners of the millions of scraped user reviews they are displaying. So again google is using content that they dont have copyright to without permission form the copyright holder. The law may be messy to comply with but that doesnt mean you can ignore it, it's there for a reason it was put there even if you dont agree with it.

As far as removing/blocking we all know Google makes removing content the equivalent of committing seppuku. Right now the only way to block my twitter stream from appearing Google is to make my profile private, if I don't like it too bad. I should be able to say no to Google indexing my data and making it part of the live search data. Can you remove your individual reviews from being scraped without removing your website from google, I'd pretty surprised if there was a way. All of those review sites have spent considerable resources getting and building all that data, Google comes along scrapes it up, throws up some adsense, and cuts them out of the picture. Would you stand for it if they did the same thing to articles published on Search Engine Land?

This isn't so much about what they are doing now as it is the direction they are pointing in and the speed with which they are moving forward. It's much easier to stop something when it's at the top of the hill and moving slowly, if you wait till it gets to the bottom and has full head of steam you'll never stop it.

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from dannysullivan 4108 Days ago #
Votes: 0

When I search for this:

The very first link I get is:

Dolphin Harbor Miami Seaquarium: A South Florida Attraction

And when I click on that link, I go to the official Miami Seaquarium site. So what are you talking about?

In terms of the reviews, if the sites hosting the reviews don't want them in Google, they can request that they be removed. If the people who posted those reviews on those sites don't want their particular reviews for some odd reason not to be in Google, then I suppose they have to take their review down entirely. I've never heard of anyone raising this issue. I think you're just trying to stretch the point.

I mean, the review sites themselves will show up in Google, right? I can do a search for this:

Which I might do to see if anyone is saying a particular place sucks. And there's TripAdvisor in the top listing. And there's a snippet showing me the content of an actual review, just as snippets show me content of actual web pages. Is Google now violating the soft license whatever copyright of the person who posted on that page. Does Google have to ask each and every person who posts a review on social media sites if they have their permission to summarize things. What do you propose about anonymous reviews?

Google has contacted each and everyone of the hosting sites via the robots.txt protocal. Those sites aren't saying keep out, but they could. I still don't see the issue here.

On your Twitter stream, are you telling me that you honestly think there's a concern that people would want to have a public Twitter stream but NOT want it in Google. Like it could be everywhere else -- they wouldn't have an issue about it being in Bing, in Yahoo, being on pages all across the web, in someone's personal feed reader but only in Google, they have a problem? When you've gathered all 10 of those people, I suspect even then Google will work something out for them.

Honestly, Michael, it's just hard to take your cries of wolf seriously when you, I'm sorry to say, pick really weak examples. I have an entire blog post in my head just for you about the whole rant capital thing. You're running around screaming that everyone just doesn't get that Google's going to wipe them out. That's a turnoff because for one, it implies that we're all a bunch of idiots who either don't see the true universe according to your correct view or that we don't see the horror that's about to happen, period.

There has simply not been a big outcry from individual reviewers that oh no, my review is in Google. It goes entirely opposite to the psychology of someone who does a review, I'd say. They wrote the damn thing in order to get their view out. They want it to be seen. They certainly haven't been complaining about this. To me, you're just picking at that to be difficult and defend an argument that's weak.

Now, if you want to make a better argument, here's how I'd do it.

If you claim a business listing in Google, you should have the option to have that listing's map appear in a smaller fashion, maybe to the right side. That strikes a better balance beween Google's desire to show users something they want and the business owner's desire to speak directly to someone looking for them. Is a user really that served getting a big map like that taking up most of the top of the page?

If I've claimed a listing, then for the more information option, maybe I should have the ability to make that lead directly to my own web site, if I want to (and if I have a site -- you know, this is a local trigger and a lot of small business don't have one).

If I've claimed a listing, maybe I also have the option to earn off the ads that Google puts on that page or the option to turn them off entirely, since in the end, they're still inadvertently generating traffic off my name.

You could argue that as a business owner, I should also be able to lock out reviews. I wouldn't be for that, since I think Google users are well served by seeing reviews. But maybe business owners could have a right to respond to any of the visible ones that are showing, right on their Google page.

As for review site, I said already if they don't want to have their listings be shown, they don't have to.

These are reasonable things to me. They're harder to knock down that someone was "stolen" or not. They're actually also things that could be implemented.

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from graywolf 4108 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Ah see but here's the difference we can sit around and debate into infinity whether my opinion is right or your is, and at the end of the day we get nowhere.

Or I can go with the copyright angle, where Google is breaking the law. Is it a serious infraction no, but sometimes you've gotta convict Al Capone on tax evasion. Google has a horrible record respecting copyright and trademarks. Scanning books without permission stealing the trademarked named holodeck for one of their projects, when it's a trademarked term, and so on. They play fast and loose with the rules,  because most people won't stand up to them.

>On your Twitter stream, are you telling me that you honestly think there's a concern that people would want to have a public Twitter stream but NOT want it in Google.

Ask anyone who has real time twitter stream showing for their name if they want it there? I can tell you Lisa Barone doesn't it showing for hers.

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from Jill 4108 Days ago #
Votes: 0

The fact is that a good portion of people who type something like Miami Seaquarium into Google DO just want the hours or phone number.

Even if they went to the website, that's still all they want.

Right or wrong, it's super helpful when that info is right there in the SERP. And that's why Google will get away with it. I don't think I would mind it if it were my site. If they want more than hours, or a phone number or address, they'll click through.

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from dannysullivan 4108 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Knock yourself out, Michael. Plug away at the copyright angle where you allege Google is breaking the law. Despite the fact that facts cannot be copyrighted (phone numbes, hours of service). Despite the fact there's the opt-outs that have been raised already and have worked without any serious lawsuits with web search. Despite the fact that in yesterday's DOJ filing on Google Book Search, the DOJ itself did not say Google was violating copyright in scanning for search purposes. Despite the fact that if Google were violating the law in that manner, you'd think some criminal action would have been taken at this point.

I've got nothing more to say, really. To me, you usually toss out stuff about Google with charges that are easily knocked down or put into question. Yeah, I get you have an issue with them. Yeah, I get that they do many borderine things. Yeah, I'm as concerned as any about their growth. But if I'm going to attack them, I'm going to darn well make sure I do it with specifics that are hard to refute. That's how I'm going to expend my rant capital.

> Ask anyone who has real time twitter stream showing for their name if they want it there? I can tell you Lisa Barone doesn't it showing for hers.

Seriously? Lisa doesn't mind that I could find her tweets all over the web in many places because they're public. It's only in Google where she has an issue? Cool. Now you need nine more people.

If she doesn't want her tweets in Google, she can turn them off from being public. And if you seriously have that many people who don't want tweets only in Google, then go talk to Twitter about letting you selectively target the major search engines.

from 0thelisa 4108 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Danny/Michael: Okay, okay, since we're talking about me. :)

I don't necessarily like that a search for [lisa barone] brings up a real-time Twitter feed. It seems too dangerous.  It's one thing for google to index the tweets and show them should there EVER be a case where I tweet something relevant to someone (which, I can tell you, there won't be), but putting them on center stage right there I feel takes away from all the other content ranking for my name, plus it's too easy for people with bad motives to spam that.  Say I speak at a conference, someone could instantly start flooding Twitter with bad stuff about me and then it's rotating through the SERPs as people are searching for me. My Twitter account already ranks fairly  high for my name, I don't think we need a revolving door of tweets to add to that.

That said, I don't agree with Michael's view on Google hijacking content, at least not from the small business side.  If his issue is that they're stealing Zagat's content and taking money from, I still don't even agree with that.  Sorry, Dad.

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from dannysullivan 4108 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Thanks, Lisa. So that's different from what Michael's talking about. He initially suggested people might not want their tweets to be in Twitter, period. You don't like that there's a real time box.

Here's one clarification. That's not just Twitter showing up there. That's any news about you from news sites, blog post and eventually other "super fresh" mentions. So switching off just Twitter wouldn't help, as Michael's suggesting. What you really want is the ability for Google not to show a real time feed for your name.

Let's say Google hands that to you. Somehow, you manage to convince them that you're the only Lisa Barone out there, and that you should have the ablity to block any real time displays for your name. What's next? Should you be able to block any fresh news content about you? If you don't like a web page that manages to rank in the long term for your name, do you get to nix that?

What happens with famous people in the news. Do they get block real time results, so that if Jay Leno gets yanked from the Tonight Show, we can't see that in real time content on Google?

Do we extend this option to companies? Because I'm sure Apple doesn't like the fact that the real time results about iPad reactions might have taken away from Steve Jobs talking about it this month.

When you're just talking about yourself, an opt-out might seem reasonable. When you look at the broader spectrum of things, it really doesn't, to me.

What does seem reasonable is that Google doesn't have this dynamic display of real time content, where stuff rolls in constantly. Instead, a static display of authorative and recent tweets and other real time content might make more sense from a user perspective, and then you can click to drill down more.

from 0thelisa 4108 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I can't disagree with any of that, other than that I'm not a fan of the real-time updates to begin with and I find them to be more of a distraction than actually useful. But I've blogged about that before so I won't take up a Sphinn thread to rant about it.

Also, I thought I WAS the only Lisa Barone out there. Seems I have more work to do. Sigh.

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from dannysullivan 4108 Days ago #
Votes: 0

You're the only Lisa Barone out there to us, Lisa :)

from tropical 4107 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Turns out, the review sites can opt out if they want.

Danny, I'd like to know what options web site owners whose content is taken to be used in Google Maps' "data layers" have for "opting out". I can believe that they do, actually, give options to CitySearch etc for opting out of Places. I know newspaper owners can email to take their stuff off Google News. What about us the little guys?

They certainly don't make it easy. "Automatic" opt-outs don't seem to applicable: robots.txt doesn't work. They know we want to be in the search engine. Google won't adopt ACAP. You seem to think they are being fair and anybody who doesn't like how their content is being used by Google can choose not to participate in these new "services" offered by Google. My question is: what is the mechanism for doing just that?

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from dannysullivan 4106 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Tropical, little guys don't even get into Google News for the most part, unless they go out of their way to ask. So getting out really isn't an issue there.

Even if Google did adopt ACAP, that's not really the solution you might think. See Head-To-Head: ACAP Versus Robots.txt For Controlling Search Engines for a really deep look at that.

In terms of particular places where Google lists third-party content, there's a little known Content Central area at Google they launched over a year ago that would be a good start. That needs to expand, and the removal options need to be better outlined. Google could do a much better job on this front. Much better.

But in general, when you look at a content use out there, Google usually does have an opt-out. Lookign at the place pages in particular, however, it's difficult to know what exactly is opt-out because of a lack of attribution.

For example, the page for Miami Seaquarium is owner verified. So I can't tell if the hours, categories, phone numbers etc are taken from third party sources that might want to opt-out, from public records where you can't opt out or from the owner themselves.

If I drill into the details pages, I get this:

Each section is attributed to a source, with a link. There are a lot of little sites where I doubt Google is talking directly to for inclusion, like

If they want the details Google gathers from their sites out of Google, it appears they'd have to block Google entirely. I don't see an option to just stay off places pages. And that's a big Google fail. They should allow this, especially since lifting those details to me doesn't really reward the site with much link traffic given how buried all this is.

I would guess there reason there isn't a specific opt-out is because there hasn't been a demand for it. Google didn't have an automatic opt-out for Google News until about three months ago because for the most part, no one was asking about that. Some Italian publications made a fuss to me more for publicity than because it was a problem. But that solved the problem -- Google added the opt-out: Google Adds Googlebot-News User Agent To Allow Blocking Google News.

That's not an excuse for not having these more clearly across the board, just an explanation as to why they probably don't have them. I actually agree with Michael in general that Google -- along with Bing and other search engine like Wolfram Alpha -- are assuming that more and more, they can extract content with hard to find source links and assume that's as fair of an exchange as we've had with listing web pages. It's not, and that type of growth is alarming.

So too are issues like the place pages themselves, which as we just covered, now direct peopel to competitors: Google Recommends The Competition On Your Business “Place” Page.

I think Google specifically and the search industry in general should get hammered on this stuff. I felt Mike was weak in the areas he pokes at when there are better areas he could. In the case of reviews, my understanding had been that Google is working directly with these sites. if they're not, agreed, they need to make the opt-out clearer. But also, the review sites simply don't seem to have an issue so far. They've not been complaining about this that I've seen. Maybe that's becasue they're stupid, as Michael might feel, and don't see how Google is potentially cannibalizing them. But then again, maybe they do understand their business, especially since they can actually see the traffic they get and how it converts. They might consider the traffic they're getting now more than fair. I just can't say.

from Silver 4105 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I think I have to agree with Danny that in general there's a very long history and precedent to directory providers publishing information about businesses, and this use isn't considered copyright infringement upon those businesses.
However, if one "stole" those listings from another directory, such as one yellow pages company stealing YP listings from another, it would be copyright infringement. If you could prove the point of origin. Tricky and confusing, no?
I think that Michael's overall concern is somewhat justified, though not from the perspective of businesses showing up in local/maps listings, but from the standpoint of many directories whose content has been co-opted for use. There's some growing indication of anti-competitive practices which, unchecked, could severely impact free market competition in the business directory space. For directories, getting content indexed by search engines was all well and fine when it resulted in getting traffic in return. But a number of changes seem to be reducing the appearance of a mutually-beneficial symbiotic relationship. Ex: 
I don't believe it's a case that "the review sites simply don't seem to have an issue so far" -- I think they are in the midst of a catch-22. They can snap the current relationship, and they will steadily lose traffic and market share. Or, they can continue the existing data partnership arrangements and receive the dribbles of traffic while their content is helping to build increasing market share in a product that might choose to squeeze them completely out of the picture at any future point.
When a relationship with Google is a mutually beneficial arrangement, I think it's a win-win for the entire marketplace. However, if Google takes a provider's content only to build marketshare and abruptly drop the provider down the line -- this is somewhat predatory or parasitic.
It's much more subtle if a provider is slowly squeezed versus abruptly dropped. The saying is that a frog placed in a pan of cool water may not notice that the water is brought up slowly to boiling point until too late, whereas if you dropped a frog abruptly into boiling water they'd just jump back out. I recognize that suggesting that Google could gradually squeeze a data partner sounds fairly tin-foil-hat of me, but the possibility does not seem beyond serious contemplation.
I know that in the context of traditional business, using a partner's content temporarily to gain advantage may sound all fair, but I'm not sure that those rules necessarily apply when one business has become the main point of access for the market itself.

from mastalic 4093 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@dannysullivan Don't know much about this topic, but I used to work for and know that inclusion of that site's content on google maps was arranged with google. (And although parentsconnect itself is a "little" site, it is owned by Nickelodeon/MTV.)

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