Okay so Google set a trap to verify Bing was copying some of their results. They then presented the story to Danny Sullivan to get it out to the search industry and other news sources this morning just before ThinkBig's Farsight 2011: Beyond the Search Box, an event sponsored by Bing. Representatives from both Google and Bing met on a panel during the event and accusations flew.
And why should I care?
Is this something that as a search engine marketer I should be concerned with? Is Bing involved in some type of industrial espionage? Was there a crime committed? Will Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt be led away in handcuffs any time soon?
The entire thing smacks of sensationalism. Google laid out their "honeypot" - yes they used that term - in great detail and apparently took months researching it. They set up search results - manually adjusting their results no less - for non-existent words and had engineers do searches from home and other sites off the Google complex to generate searches that Bing would see through their toolbar and Internet Explorer browsers to see what Bing did with them.
Sure enough, Bing took the bait and added the terms to their own search results.
"Cheater, cheater," Google cried - and Google's Spam Czar Matt Cutts echoed at the BigThink session.
Now both engines use hundreds of ways to gather and rank listings in their search results. Matt made a point of stating Google did not use Bing as a source of their search results. Fair enough, but does that mean Bing cannot use input from Google?
Throughout all this, there were questions I wanted answered that both parties did not address. Why didn't Danny ask how does Google use the information it gathers from its toolbar? Do they monitor what links are clicked on a page that is loaded? If so how do they differentiate when someone is using Bing or just a regular site page?
So why did Google make this information public? Are they worried about Bing's growing marketshare? Was this a play to embarrass Microsoft with their partners? Was Bing taking away search partners and Google wanted to be able to tell them - "hey they just copy us so why not go to the source"?
What did I learn from all this that may impact my search marketing?
One, Google CAN manually impact search results and I tend to believe big spending advertisers could influence that. As someone who was in charge of a major spend at Google, I had my organic results changed when an algorithm glitch dropped the site from the rankings.
Two, both engines admitted they use click information as a ranking factor - not something new to blackhats.
Three, Google thinks they can gather information about every other site, but no one can use information on their site. Basically, a Google search result is a web page, so why can't it be used. Microsoft has said it is trying to improve their results and if I was working there I would be looking at what Google was doing. I do link research of competitors for my clients. I watch where they rank for relevant keywords and what new content they add to their web sites.
Good online marketers keep an eye on any new information, apps, platforms, etc that are launched in their clients' industries. Decisions are then made to see if they are worth emulating. Isn't that what Bing was doing? Hey there is a new term people are searching for over at Google and there are pages listed for it - given it is on a page in the public domain and the pages are not Google's, why shouldn't a good search engine add them to their lists?
Has Google gone too far with this one? In my opinion, yes, and now I want to know the motives behind it.