January 08, 2013, 11:10 AM — The Federal Trade Commission has spent the past year investigating allegations that Google abused its power as the dominant search engine to block smaller rivals and promote its own sites and services. On Friday, the FTC announced that it would not pursue the action any further, nor will it impose any penalties on Google--and that's cause for concern for smaller companies trying to compete against Google.
One of the primary focuses of the FTC investigation was Google's Universal Search, a search option that prominently displays relevant Google products and services in response to related searches. The main question is whether Google altered its algorithm and doctored the results in any way to intentionally demote rival products and services, and unfairly eliminate competition. In the end, the FTC ruled that any changes Google might have made to its algorithms could be justified as innovations to improve the search experience for users, regardless of any adverse impact on individual competitors.
Google search is an arcane, dark magic. Companies and individuals are dedicated to mastering SEO (search engine optimization), but SEO is more of an art than a science. Even if you succeed in clawing your way to the top of Google search results, the algorithm can change without warning and you can quickly disappear into oblivion.
It's also possible that Google's self-promotion is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. The point of the search algorithms is to find the best, most relevant results for a given query--and those results may be determined by the overall traffic and credibility of the linked domain. By virtue of being Google, Google's own products are very popular and widely used, so it's reasonable to think that even if Google did nothing but launch a product or service, the algorithm would quickly bump Google to the top of the results without any subversive intent on Google's part. And, once the Google product is at the top of the search results, more people will find and use it, which will ensure it stays at the top of the search results.
If your small business eals in travel deals, local shopping, online productivity suites, mapping, or other purely online business, what can you do? Use these four tips to compete against Google: