TripAdvisor Reviews and Google Places – the Saga Continues

Su from the Inn at Tanglewood Hall, a bed and breakfast in York Harbor, Me alerted me on the 20th to the fact that TripAdvisor reviews were once again missing from Google Places. Today she sent me this missive from the CEO of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer inviting questions via Twitter about the TripAdvisor-Google battle over review content in Google Places. I am reprinting his message in full:

***

#AskSteve on Twitter: TripAdvisor Talks Google Places and Invites Questions

With more than 70% of all searches in the U.S. alone, Google is the world’s  dominant search engine with considerable power over displaying what users see on the web. With Google Places, it is abusing this power.

The success of any website relies on two crucial elements: how useful it is to the consumer and therefore how highly it ranks in search engines.  With both of these elements, Google is manipulating its systems and position to promote Google Places over other competing sites.  Links to Google Places appear at the top of the ‘natural’ search despite being an inferior product to sites that are dedicated to review collection and therefore more useful to the consumer.  Google is also forcingTripAdvisor to allow its reviews to be on Google Places, and as the world’s largest travel site with more than 40 million reviews and opinions, become the key content provider in Google Places for hotel and other accommodation reviews.

While we expect competition in the travel planning sector, we expect the success of the competition to be decided by the consumer.  The EU Commission is currently investigating claims of how Google is adopting unfair practice; Google Places is another example of how they are abusing their dominant position in search.

As the situation continues to unfold, we know that many of you may have questions about Google Places and how we at TripAdvisor are approaching it, and I want to get those questions answered.  Over the next couple of days, we’ll be asking you to share these questions on Twitter, and I’ll be answering them right here on the TripAdvisor blog.  Follow us at @TripAdvisor for additional details on how to submit questions and join in on the conversation.

Steve Kaufer, CEO, TripAdvisor

Guidelines for submitting questions:

  • I’ll only be answering questions about Google Places.  Questions on other topics will not be responded to at this time.
  • In order to have your question included, please be sure to use the hashtag #AskSteve.
  • I will be answering ten questions.  Answers will be posted here, on the TripAdvisor blog, and shared on Twitter. Follow @TripAdvisor for updates.

To see the Twitter question stream….

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
TripAdvisor Reviews and Google Places - the Saga Continues by

26 thoughts on “TripAdvisor Reviews and Google Places – the Saga Continues”

  1. WOW. As George Costanza would say, “We’re taking it up a notch!”

    Frankly, I’m a little surprised that we haven’t heard this kind of talk from IYP’s (outside of industry events like Kelsey Group), but that’s perhaps partly because they don’t have the “superior product” that TripAdvisor does. Jeremy Stoppelman’s been pretty outspoken but I get the sense that Yelp’s market is a little more self-contained than TripAdvisor…

  2. @David

    With TripAdvisor being owned by Expedia I think the stakes might be higher as well.

    Not sure if you notices but it appears to me that Yahoo reviews are missing as well.

  3. I think its about time. IMHO Google exhibits monopolistic control of the search market, simply by its control of market share.

    Moreover it has exhibited monopolistic abuse in its unwillingness to extend customer service to small businesses as has been documented here and other places. This has occurred for years. Somehow Google gets away with it.

    Frankly I was surprised by the goal stated below; with regard to a turnaround time for fixing merged listings: 3 weeks. Imagine your business phone wasn’t working (not because of an act of nature–but because of some common every day occurrance) and the phone company stated that their goal was to fix it in 3 weeks.

    3 Weeks!!!! That KILLS a small business. Just tears its guts out!!!

    It would be unacceptable. Google has gotten away with this kind of behavior.

    Google is currently “sucking up” the review content of the web. (hmmm….doesn’t it frown on creating duplicate content by websites.) How is that different?

    Finally a reasonably strong and loud voice wants to address this issue.

    Lets see how it plays out.

    (I bet the team at Microsoft/Bing loves this situation) ;)

  4. I, for one, am excited to see this kind of rhetoric. I’m hopeful it will shake some of the others loose.

    Google IS a monopoly and the FTC MUST get involved.

    I agree with @earlpearl, it’s unconscionable that it would take 3 weeks to fix something which is so clearly a critical business asset and to be so callous as to not even provide customer service.

    Sue the pants off ‘em Steve and get your cronies involved to make sure you don’t run out of money doing it.

    Will

  5. I have very little time for Google Places in its present guise – it is unstable and not reliable. Google is pimping Google Places in search results for their own financial ends, not for the benefit of the consumer. If the consumer prefers to search Google Maps/Places he has always had that option – there is no reason to shove it down our throats whether we want it or not.

    It is rich for Mr Kaufer to want Google to cache his site content (which is not generated by TA but by third party reviewers) in order to promote his own site’s position in the search results, but not to show those same reviews in Google Places results. He is no more thinking of the consumer than is the search engine giant – it’s all about chasing the buck.

    One is as bad as the other.

  6. @Will and EarlPearl

    Capitalism by its nature leads to large scale enterprise that often results in monopoly or oligopoly… it is the nature of the beast. As @Phil points out though one oligopolist is not much better than the rest.

    In a capitalist society the role of government is to represent the needs of its biggest clients (ie the corporations) in a one dollar one vote sort of reality. In this context the consumer is not really the focus of most of their endeavors although there might be some trickle down.

    Thus antitrust efforts are mostly the struggle between one large group of capitalists and another. Or in this case a number of large capitalists against Google. This is very similar to the Microsoft situation.

    I ask you are we, the consuming and very small business public, better off with Apple and Google now that Microsoft is not as powerful?

    There is an old cliche: When you sleep in the stall with elephants you need to be very careful when they roll over.

    Like Phil, I am very much of that thinking. TAs behaviors are every bit or perhaps more self serving than Google’s. Antitrust efforts would do nothing to make your life one bit better it would only give a little more sleeping space to one of the elephants or the other.

  7. Mike:

    I couldn’t give a rats @ss about theoretical discussions of capitalism.

    As a small business person here is what I experience.

    By virtue of market share numbers Google has what would be described as a monopolistic share of search. Its at least 70% its probably closer to 80% based on reports of what some of the “market reporting” services use….and tends to be confirmed by most reports I read from webmasters.

    80%…I’m not calling that morally good or bad. Its simply an overwhelming market share.

    Our businesses are hugely dependent on Google search….and we are working hard to diversify that level. But its difficult. Google in a sense has taken the place of the following:

    Display advertising
    Classified advertising
    The phone books (yellow pages)–don’t talk to me about IYP’s. Google is the Yellow Pages.

    But share is not on its own the problem.

    The problem comes from ignoring problems and issues. Simply ignoring them. A lack of customer service.

    I call that abuse.

    Suggesting, without having any recourse that G will strive to get an algo driven merged listing corrected in 3 weeks is testimony to the abuse, arrogance of Google and the fact they are not challenged on this.

    I go back to this analogy. Imagine if your phone went out of order in your business. The phone company said it will take 3 weeks to get around to fixing it. The problem was not an act of a nature. Its caused by an everyday issue.

    That would be unacceptable in the US. It might be the norm in an undeveloped nation. That isn’t the case here.

    You might as well tell that business to close its doors and go out of business.

    That is an overwelming volume of power over the well being of others.

    Normally in the US loud voices occur and the issue is contested in the public.

    To date Google has avoided this scrutiny. If it takes other big businesses to bring this issue to a wider environment –terrific. The issue has scarcely ever moved beyond this blog and has not taken hold within a wider environment. For shame to the media sources that have gotten a scent of the situation.

    As far as the merits or inappropriateness of TripAdvisor I can’t comment. There are a lot of web based businesses in the travel industry. TripAdvisor is one of them and one of the bigger ones.

    As far as which is good and which isn’t…or which is inappropriate that is not my concern. My simple experience is that when I’m traveling and looking for a price deal I’ve learned that I need to dedicate time to it; scrutinize a bunch of sites. They offer different value deals. Its up to me to do the homework to find the best one.

    If Expedia and TripAdvisor want to contest Google’s modus operandi I say more power to them with regard to that effort.

  8. @Earl
    I will put it in language you understand. To paraphrase Danny Devito in Matilda… they are big and you are little. Aligning with TA, a company known for its unfriendly business policies is NOT in your interests either tactically or strategically.

    Let me explain with the following parable…

    Alpha Bob (AB) is the captain of the high school football team. Beta Dick (BD) is the captain of the defense and he is a bit of a Napoleon type… smallish, scrappy but a bit of a chip on his shoulder. In the lunch hall one day BD picks a fight with AB. He has nothing to loose and plenty to gain… he wants more respect from the other players… just picking the fight gains him cred.

    You, a third string, scrawny back fielder have some choices. You can jump into the fray… but you decide not, it would be too bloody. Way too costly which ever side you pick.

    You have a choice then; you can stand on the side line and cheer AB or BD or you can sit in the back of the hall and watch the brawl….

    Now, AB, has pretty much ignored you all of these years…he,s the fair hair boy and may get a college scholarship…you resent him. No question there. Once when you finally got to play, (when the 1st and 2nd sting backs were all injured) he pitched out to you and then cleared several tacklers so you could make a decent gain… but other wise he never really notices you or bothers with you and sometimes his very presence makes your life hard.

    BD (they don’t call him BD for for nothing) on the other hand, is the kind of guy that when he sees you in the hall, knocks the books out of your hands and gets some pleasure from it.

    You can stand on the side line and cheer on BD in the fight….he is not to be trusted. Where does that leave you in the end. You could cheer on AB… but then BD would be sure to pick on you twice as much…

    Your best, sit back… let them duke it out.

    Wait for a fight in which picking a side, you will actually have something to gain.

  9. @Mike,

    Damn you’re smart!

    Since my comment this morning I have been rethinking my position that Google is a Monopoly and should be regulated by the FTC.

    It is a monopoly, but I don’t think the Ma Bell approach will work. I think instead there needs to be some sort of Ethical overlord.

    The issue expressed by earlpearl which resonates for me is this.

    The phone company is a Utility service regulated as such.
    Publishers of Phone Books, similarly.

    Google, not so much.

    They provide a Utility service in perpetual Beta with no intent toward customer service. Problem is, their customer might be the searcher, the advertiser who pays for AdWords or their investors.

    It darn well ain’t the listed businesses on which they’re making their billions.

    Will

  10. @Mike: Still too complicated. Could you simplify your explanation a little more. :D

    btw: woke up this morning and Google still controls 80% of search.

  11. @Earl

    Hmm…simpler than football… ok there were 3 babies in child care… :)

    Oh.. and it still is impossible to get two listings unmerged.

  12. Them’s fightin’ words! My eyebrows rose most particularly over this:

    “Links to Google Places appear at the top of the ‘natural’ search despite being an inferior product to sites that are dedicated to review collection and therefore more useful to the consumer. ”

    Self-serving or not, I am glad to see a high-level company saying this, for all of the reasons we already know so well about ongoing issues with Places.

    Mike, your football analogy is very funny and smart and while I see no point in jumping into the fray, I am glad that this conversation is happening out in the open rather than the issue with TripAdvisor/Google being something behind the scenes that none of us can really get a handle on.

    TripAdvisor feels it is being forced by Google to hand over its hard-earned content. I get that now. I didn’t before. Do I think Trip Advisor would be any more of a do-gooder organization than Google if theyhad that 80% market share? Cynically, no. Like you, I am not fond of many of the aspects of capitalism, but all in all, I am really glad I read what Steve Kaufer has written about this. Things are starting to feel a little clearer.

  13. @Miriam
    Is he objecting to Places Search and the loss of rank for TA pages? Or is he grumping about the high visibility of Review links on Places listings?

    Google never does anything more than scrape a few reviews and link back to his reviews on both the front page and the places page….

  14. It always baffles me how people think Google owes them something when they aren’t paying for any Google service. TripAdvisor receives a significant amount of traffic to their site from Google Places and Google natural search, yet they’re complaining. It seems to me that TripAdvisor is upset with Google for doing the same thing they are forcing hotels to do. Hoteliers feel they are being forced by the OTAs to lower rates if they want to have a good presence on their site, thus providing additional content to TripAdvisor.

  15. @Mike,
    Good questions. From Kaufman’s point of view, at least as I read it, he feels that his company’s content is being used as Google’s bread and butter in the hotel sector. From your comment, one could view the situation differently: that Google is only taking a few reviews and then sending a massive amount of links TripAdvisor’s way. It’s a complex issue. But the use of the word ‘forcing’ is strong and indicative of how TA feels about it.

  16. Obviously, Google is not scraping TA reviews simply for the benefit of the consumer – it is to make Places more useful, bearing in mind that they probably want to use Places as a direct booking engine in the future. At that point it will clearly be in direct competition with TripAdvisor.

    I personally do not want (as I’ve said elsewhere) Places results forced upon me in the general search results – if I want Places results I’m perfectly capable of clicking the little word “Map” that has always been conveniently positioned among the many search options.

    I find TripAdvisor’s sanctimonious attitude and ‘only thinking of the consumer’ claims hard to swallow, given it’s track record of buying out its competitors (anyone remember Travel Library? bought and left to wither by TA) in an attempt to create its own monopoly.

    With a rudimentary grasp of American Football I’m happy to sit on the sidelines and let them knock seven bells out of each other – I’m not pitching in for either of them!

  17. @Phil
    No Google’s actions are self interested as well… although I find the new blended results with the link to other review sites and the link to Places not objectionable at all. To me, it is less intrusive than the 7 Pack. So while they are showing Places high in the search, you are not obligated in any way to go into places… Whether a Place page deserves the link there on some other criteria I don’t know but currently the rules are that it is Google’s sandbox and they can make the “editorial decision” that they choose.

    As you have gleaned.. the sidelines is the ONLY safe place in an American Football game…

  18. Any update on this Mike? Many of our competitors have TA reviews from TA.co.uk and TA.ie and TA.in – incredibably frustrating when we’ve had all 185 of ours taken off!

    John P

  19. You may as well forget it, John P. Google seems to have largely lost interest in TA reviews and now displays “Google reviews” prominently instead (for all they are worth). TripAdvisor reviews are nothing more than a tiny footnote in Places listings now. Everyone’s in the same boat, I don’t lose sleep over things I can’t control it or do anything about.

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