The Google Parasites

Written by Evan Schuman
June 29th, 2007

I have to confess a certain fondness for Google, an admiration that has grown out frequent innovation and creativity. And a lot of luck in the form of success. Then again, my livelihood doesn’t overwhelmingly depend on the whims of Google so the idiosyncrasies of their search and other services is professionally interesting and not much more.

But to a growing legion of small and mid-sized E-Commerce players today, Google’s evolving rules and exact methodologies can devastate?or make wildly successful?and these are matters where they have virtually no say.

Despite efforts by Yahoo and others in recent months, no one has come close to touching Google’s overwhelming marketshare for Web search. In the olden days, this was called “cornering the market” and it was a good thing, to be congratulated in the nearest wood-paneled corporate watering hole.

But in the history of American commerce, there are few parallels. In its heyday, Detroit’s big three automakers were kingmakers for tons of auto supply and car component firms, but their clout only impacted one vertical?automotive?and it was split among three manufacturers.

In Google’s case, it’s consolidated with one company and it impacts any E-Commerce anywhere around the globe, selling absolutely anything, from car doors to cream cheese to karate lessons.

If the latest Google rules smile on you, you’ll have a very different day than if they changed their processes and you didn?t discover it until an hour after your competition did.

Should it be treated as a monopoly? Hardly, as other companies are quite free to do their own search services. Has Google in the 2000s become to business and consumers what the Yellow Pages were to those same groups in the 1980s?

From Google’s perspective, what right do these etailers have to complain? Have they morphed from Web sites to Parasites?

There are some 727,000 retailers in this country. (No, I didn’t just make that figure up. It came from the U.S. Census Bureau. They made that figure up.) Is Google really duty-bound to accommodate the business needs of everyone?

Erik Qualman isn?t quite going that far, but he is feeling the pressure of having his company stunningly dependent on Google’s whims. He runs marketing for a travel site called TravelZoo.

The problem is that TravelZoo has lots of sort-duration special programs and he can’t get the Google ads and links to recognize them in time for them to be relevant.

I’ve noted in this column before the maddeningly inability of Google search to understand various elements of time, including “show me the items with the most recent dates” and “show me the items you most recently found.”

There are retail tech searches that I run routinely. One will often generate about 40,000 responses. When it generates, for example, 40,586 responses four days in a row and it then delivers 54,586 responses on the fifth day, I am assuming that Google has found 14,000 responses it didn’t know about it before, including some pages that might be five years old. (OK, it could be more than 14,000 because some of the older responses might have been deleted, but let’s try and keep this semi-simple.) There’s no way to say “Just show me any responses your system ‘discovered’ in the last 24 hours or 36 hours.”

But search is just a useful tool to me and one of many tools at that. What if all of our revenue was dependent on Google’s latest codings?

Yep, it’s a cold and hard E-Commerce world out there today. Still have doubts? Just Google it and find out.


2 Comments | Read The Google Parasites

  1. Angela Says:

    Thanks for a great, and truly relevant article (The Google Parasites).

    It’s important to have these discussions, as you mention in your article, there are no parallels to draw from. We (retailers) are finding ourselves in a whole new paradigm, where falling off the edge of the Google world can be tantamount to having your store destroyed in a tornado, for which there is no insurance coverage (yet) ;-) !

    Thanks for putting this out there.

  2. Rab Says:

    Well I for one am getting tired of listings being either so far out of date as to be irrelevant, or even dead links!

    I would like to see a time stamp on everything.

    And the fact that the first two pages are dominated by ebay or nextag. It seems a little better lately, but at one point it seemed as if I searched on anything, ebay would have it. Of course it linked to a list of nothing relevant.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to rant.



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