Feb 212014

Knowledge Graph Recommending Competitors?

Is anyone else concerned about the ads and competitor recommendations in Google's Knowledge Graph?

Ginny Marvin's fine post on SEL highlighted the fact that for a selection of movie titles the ads shown in Knowledge Graph about those movies seemed to disproportionately favor Amazon downloads and Google Play over other streaming sites.

That is interesting, but ultimately the brand -- in this case the movie/film studio -- doesn't really care which distribution partners are featured, so, while Netflix might need to spend more to get in the mix, Despicable Me 2 is likely indifferent.


What I find disturbing is that if I search for "Target" the Knowledge Graph tells me all kinds of good stuff about Target, but then also points out that people also search for WalMart, Best Buy, Sam's Club, etc.

Now maybe this isn't a big deal for Target since everyone knows their competitors. But suppose you're a fashion brand like Express? Do you really need Google to tell your customers who else they should consider before buying at Express?

An argument could be made that there have always been ads for competitors on brand searches so this is no big deal. I don't agree. "The Knowledge Graph" carries with it a certain authoritative aura.

Where search ads from other brands seem a wee bit desperate (look at me! look at me!) Having an "Everything you should know about this brand," source with stock tickers, etc saying: "and you should also consider these other companies..." that's just wrong!

Companies work hard to develop their brand and generate the kind of loyalty and interest that prompts people to search for them by name. "Helpfully" encouraging those loyal customers to shop around erodes the lifetime value of customers, and ironically could bite Google in the butt down the road. Companies invest in non-brand paid search to reach new customers.

Many companies are willing to lose money on an initial purchase from a new customer because lifetime value makes that a growth investment that pays off. If, however, lifetime value erodes (because some unnamed navigational tool suggests alternatives instead of simply helping the person find the info they requested) companies will in turn be less willing to invest in new customers.

Do others find this practice objectionable? Is it different than just normal ads from competitors?


5 Responses to "Knowledge Graph Recommending Competitors?"
Jon K says:
Definitely Questionable. We've had issue with the "Searches related to" at the bottom of Google and more prominent on Yahoo and Bing since forever. Not only do we dislike the biased influence it has on natural searches and tends to aggregate click happy folks that don't seem to convert well, but also we've seen competitors names in there. You think this is done to gain more paid clicks for the engines? That has always been our theory on "Searches Related to" . This is "Searches Related to" on steroids! Not a fan.
Tim P says:
Dead on George. For folks in highly competitve businesses, this can prove to be a serious issue! Some of us are in niche businesses and the recommendations are only marginally competitve. Surely, that will change with time as well. So, is it a problem--absolutely! We spend a lot of money to ATTRACT and certainly don't want to DISTRACT.
Thanks for the perspectives, gentlemen. Jon, there is no question there is a revenue angle. Interestingly, the Knowledge Graph itself likely pushed many ads off the page and actually reduced Google's revenue per impression on the SERP. Working the ads back in as part of the KG might be a way to claw back some of that revenue. If asked, I'm quite certain that Google would make the case that it is mostly about providing quality information to users. The more useful Google is as a recommendation engine the more people will use it for shopping rather than going to Amazon directly.
Stu says:
Well here's another angle where Google have it wrong and are fleecing front end ad payers. Maybe Im not paying them enough. If you type in my exact url string, including www., Google says "do you mean" - and gives a direct competitor website as a replacement. Making the client think they have mis- spelt or even have the wrong company. i pay Google $0000's and they blame it on their spell check which apparently they have NO control over. Thoughts?
I hear you, Stu. Thanks for sharing...venting...with us!

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