Does Google Favor Its Own Platforms in Search Visibility? FINIZ conference 2020
Google is the most dominant search engine in the world. Due to its monopoly, it is often targeted by regulators, accused of imposing its services and platforms. The paper aims to determine whether a presence on Google-owned platforms improves the website visibility on the search engine, expressed through the search engine optimisation score. For this purpose, the web presence of eight private universities in Serbia on Google My Business, Google Maps, YouTube and Google Images were analysed with software screening and observation of the search engine result page. The research results confirmed that Google favours its platforms, as universities with a symbiotic presence on all of them recorded the highest search engine optimisation score. Furthermore, Google gives the highest priority to a verified Google My Business account, as it signals the authority of the university web presence. Since Google uses more than 250 factors in website ranking, the findings should be interpreted with caution.
Steps to reproduce
The research methodology includes software screening and observation of Google search results on the SERP, on the sample consisting of eight private universities in Serbia: Singidunum, Megatrend, Privredna akademija, Metropolitan, Union, Union Nikola Tesla, Alfa and International University of Novi Pazar. The analysis included only private universities, as they are not beneficiaries of the state budget for education, which makes their online visibility and web presence one of the major contributing factors to the enrolment of a new generation of students. Given the introductory considerations, from which it arises that Google, together with its owned platforms has absolute dominance in the search engine market, the following hypothesis was formulated: (H) University websites that have a presence on Google platforms have better search visibility. The research aimed to detect whether Google favours its own platforms by providing websites that have optimised presence on them with better organic search visibility. The visibility of the websites in Google search is presented as a total SEO score, shown on a scale from 1 to 100 (with 1-40 signifying low performance, 41-69 with opportunities to improve, and over 70 being well optimised to both search engines and users). For its calculation, the SEO and website review tool Woorank has been deployed in May 2020. WooRank displays its SEO score given on any website evaluated, as a result of analysing key factors that impact SEO and visibility of a website. When it comes to owned Google platforms, the following methodology was applied: - Strategic presence on Google My Business (GMB): verified account, confirmed by not showing the option “Own this business”. It was presumed that universities, because of their authority and relevance in the education community, must verify their GMB to confirm ownership of it, thus preventing Google or even competitors from publishing out-of-date or inaccurate information. Also, unverified GMB accounts are usually positioned lower in the search results compared to verified accounts, which is why they have less visibility. - Google Maps: having a pinned location. - YouTube: channel owned by the university. - Google Images: percentage of images that do not contain an alternative description (alt-text) in the total number of website images, analysed by means of the Screaming Frog crawler software. Images without descriptive text will not be visible in Google Images search results. Because Google recommends that most, if not all images on a website be described, the Google Images platform in the research was categorised as good (up to 25% of images missing alt-text), tolerant (25-35% without alt-text) and poor performance (over 35% images with no alt-text).