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Study By Former FTC Advisor Tim Wu Claims Google Local Search Results Violate Competition Laws

The Wall Street Journal reports researchers from Columbia Law School and Harvard University Business School claim Google is degrading its search results by delivering self-promoted content over results based on relevancy.

Sponsored by Yelp, a complainant listed in the EU’s antitrust case against Google, the study was conducted by former FTC advisor Tim Wu from Columbia Law School and Harvard Business School’s Michael Luca.

The two researchers surveyed 2,500 Internet users, randomly delivering two sets of results for local-intent searches to determine which links users preferred. One page showed search results ranked purely on relevancy using Google’s algorithm, with links from review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor prominently displayed. The other page served up results currently displayed by Google with its own services given preference.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wu and Luna’s research revealed a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of clicks on the results ranked by relevancy.

The survey found 32 percent of users would click on Google’s current local results, while 47 percent click on the alternative merit-based results. That near-50 percent increase in clicks is “immense in the modern Web industry” the authors wrote.

Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal says the researchers believe their findings suggest Google is harming users and violating competition laws. “By leveraging dominance in search to promote its internal content, Google is reducing social welfare – leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches,” claim Wu and Luca in their study.

The Wall Street Journal did say Wu and Luca admitted differences between their click surveys and Google’s actual search results, but that the two cross-checked their results using Yelp-data, and found their findings offered a “reasonable estimate” for user behavior.

More information on the study, along with further coverage of the EU’s antitrust case against Google, can be found on our partner site at Marketing Land: Study Claims Google Is Delivering “Degraded” Search Results, Adding Steam To EU Antitrust Case.

Wu and Luca’s full report can be found here: “Is Google Degrading Search?” Yelp also shared the following video summarizing the study’s findings:

Postscript: A Google spokesperson emailed the following comment in response to Yelp’s study: “This isn’t new – Yelp’s been making these arguments to regulators, and demanding higher placement in search results, for the past five years. This latest study is based on a flawed methodology that focuses on results for just a handful of cherry-picked queries. At Google we focus on trying to provide the best result for our users.”

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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