Does Google Cheat?

salmon and cucumber sushi

A new study funded by Yelp suggests that Google has its “thumb on the scale” when it comes to providing searchers with the “best” links. Really? Even without a study just try typing into Google the following:


  • Restaurant reviews New York –  first result is Zagat, owned by Google!
  • Restaurant reviews Chicago– first result is Zagat, owned by Google!
  • Restaurant reviews Chicago– first result is Zagat, owned by Google!

The Zagat name has been connected to reliable and quality reviews, but since Google bought Zagat’s in 2011 the quality has gone downhill, with aggregated review data often based on reviews that are extremely out of date.

On the other hand, having competitor Yelp fund the study makes the findings a little suspect, even if the researchers come from Harvard and Columbia Universities.

Danny Sullivan, of Search Engine Watch, probably said it best:

…it comes across more to me as a public relations exercise rather than precise science”

So yes, Google cheats, and yes a study funded by its competitor is difficult to trust, but what is really difficult to trust are user review sites like Yelp, Zagat, and others.

Aggregating “crowd wisdom” on review sites often includes fake reviews, sponsored content (Elite Yelpers are given free food and then rate it 5 stars), and reviews that are just plain off topic.

A study from Purdue University found that user-generated reviews devote a far greater percentage of their word count to service and price than do semi-professional and professional restaurant reviews.

  • The sushi here is amazing! It literally melts in your mouth. BUT little did I know, this place charges 18% gratuity no matter how big your party is. That really really really disappointed me and definitely hurt their rating. –2-star review of Sugarfish by David N.
  • wtf, try to go to Langers on the day after Thanksgiving, and it is CLOSED! For four days!!!–1-star review of Langer’s Delicatessen Restaurant by Carla B.

Call me crazy, but if I were Google, I would put at the top of my search results professional bloggers and journalists who review restaurants.

Try out these, for example:

Jonathan Kauffman

Pete Wells 

Robert Sietsema

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