Is Google selling search results?

A post from Jeff Jarvis just got my wheels turning.  I’ve seen the Pontiac commercial as well which tells you to Google "Pontiac" for more info. What really interests me is that Google must have assured Pontiac that they’d for sure turn up #1 in that search, and, I’m assuming, that nothing bad would turn up about Pontiac, probably for the first couple of pages.

This begs the question:  how democractic should search be?  If Google is selling search placement, is this a case of their internal search optimization department having a direct influence on the search results?  Or is it simply because the Pontiac is the most relevant search result for "Pontiac"?  What if Google is pushing down  anti-Pontiac sites in the rankings as a result of a this partnership?  Does that dilute the usefulness of Google as a search engine?  I would answer yes to that question.

I’ve wondered in the past what would happen if Google started selling actual search result placements instead of just ads.  Is the fact that Pontiac, MI comes up second in the results a result of the fact that www.pontiac.com is more relevant, more searched for, or they paid more?  Is this an indication that Google has truly turned to the Dark Side?

What will happen when the Beatles’ record label, Apple Records, decides to launch a Web site, and they feel they’re just as relevant a result as www.apple.com?  Do they have an equal claim to that precious first search result spot?  Does it depend on the amount of money that each company spends with Google in advertising?  Is this type of nepotism going to affect all of their products?  Will results in Google Base and Google Mail be filtered or sorted according to Google’s partnerships?

If this trend continues, I think we’re going to see Web search results become less relevant.  I think, given the choice between a corporately-filtered list of search results from Google and a social medium where peers determine what is relevant, people would rather depend on their peers.  I know I would.

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  • Javaun

    Google isn't selling search results. Never, no way, no how. Search is their bread and butter. Though they might gain short term fees from selling search, they'd be doctoring their results (making them less relevant to a majority of users) and they would start to lose market share. Pontiac was simply #1 on this search, and being well-optimized, it would take a lot to unseat them. They are trying to capitalize on grassroots buzz/word of mouth though.

    You're right, they did take a risk that negative stuff could have emerged. Companies can't control who else emerges in the natural rankings (google "Walmart" and you'll see that at least 4 of the top 10 sites are anti-Walmart. If you google "Walmart Problems", walmart has even optimized a site to appear high in the rankings to counteract the negative PR. ) A lot of companies do use AdWords (the pay per click ads) to counteract bad publicity.