Google's Antitrust Case: Algorithm Manipulation vs. Keyword Matching

What would you think if Google wasn’t just inflating the price of those low-competition keywords but gave their entire search algorithm a makeover to rake in more cash?

That’s what Megan Gray, an attorney known for her winning streak against the tech giants, proposed after sitting in on Google’s antitrust trial.

To summarize Gray’s claims, when users search for something like "children's clothing," Google might secretly switch it up with something like "NIKOLAI-brand kidswear." Sneaky, right?

If Google was caught swapping out organic search results to boost ad clicks, that's not a good look. 😬

Gray’s article has since been removed from Wired’s website but remnants of her claims remain public. We took this opportunity to examine the information Gray saw that caused such an uproar in the first place and if there is any evidence to back her up.

🤔 Not as it seems 

At first glance, this keyword-switch Gray referred to vaguely resembled Google’s "keyword match type" offering for its advertisers.

In a nutshell, if an advertiser wants their ad to pop up for "Nikolai brand kidswear," as Gray suggested, a "broad match type" could also make their ad show up when someone looks for "children's clothing."

This wider reach could amp up the competition for generic search terms like “children’s clothing” and pump up Google's profits. It’s probably why Google tends to push that offering on advertisers more often than “phrase match” and “exact match.” 🤑

📖 Origin story

Gray’s concerns likely began after seeing a leaked email addressed to Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president at Google who’s largely responsible for stuff like “Google Search, Assistant, Geo, Ads, Commerce, and Payments products.”

The email asked Raghavan if the Chrome team could "inject" search results for the Ads team. Why? Because the Ads team needed more cash to meet CFO Ruth Porat's expectations.

Whatever "injecting" means exactly is still a mystery. Legal minds like Gray suspected Google to be messing with organic search results for more ad clicks.

🚀 Digging deeper

As Gray’s story broke, more channels and sources began weighing in on the matter to address people’s valid concerns. 

We uncovered an X post by @searchliaison that references Gray’s article directly:

An opinion piece recently appeared stating that Google “just flat out deletes queries and replaces them with ones that monetize better.” We don’t. The piece contains serious inaccuracies about how Google Search works. The organic (IE: non-sponsored) results you see in Search are not affected by our ads systems.

In particular, the piece seems to misunderstand how keyword matching is related to showing relevant ads on Google Search.”

The post goes on to suggest that keyword matching operates on a separate system from organic search results.

Adam Kovacevich, a former Googler, claims to have requested a courtroom slide at the source of this whole controversy from the Google team. Here's the image Kovacevich says kicked off the drama and could be the source of Gray’s original article: 👇

💲Business as usual

So far, Google has been very general in response to the allegations outside of the courtroom so we're still not sure if the Google teams actually went ahead and “injected” search results as per the leaked email.

If it turns out Google's been pushing this money-driven plan onto advertisers and users without them knowing, there could be some major consequences and backlash from the marketing industry. 

We simply have to wait and see what the courts say as this antitrust case unfolds. 🤷‍♂️

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