In case you missed it, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission finally reached a decision about a long-standing investigation with Google. As most startup companies realize quite quickly, Google is incredibly important to the success of a business. This makes search engine optimization, or SEO, extremely important. Startups need to start making sure that Google bots notice their website right away, and they need to make sure that their website is showing up on relevant search results pages.

Because of the popularity of Google and therefore the importance for businesses, it makes sense that Google is double-checked for honesty. Were they trying to put their own vertical properties to the top of results? Were they trying to give themselves an advantage over competitors?

The Case for Google with the FTC

For those who are unfamiliar, the investigation regarding Google has been underway for nearly 20 months. It started because some (particularly competitors) felt that Google was being unfair to competitors when it came time to rank different websites. It would make sense that Google might try to pull one over on us and rank their own content higher than others, and so the investigation seemed warranted. Google faced hefty fines and would have had to change their search formula, but the decision today left Google in the clear.

The FTC found Google innocent of any wrongful behavior stating, “the evidence presented at this time [did] not support the allegation that Google’s display of its own vertical content at or near the top of its search results.”

Google therefore got out of the investigation with no fines; however they are still going to make some voluntary changes including:

  • Websites will now have the option to opt out of having their content featured on any special search results pages such as Google Shopping, Flights, and Google+ Local.
  • Marketers should now be getting more control when it comes to AdWords campaigns by being allowed to manager their campaigns on rival websites or search engines.
  • Agreeing not to scrape content from competitor websites and then claim it as their own, original content.
  • Competitors will now be able to see and access the patents for smartphones that Google gained when it purchased Motorola Mobility. The idea of patents was also something the FTC considered in the investigation.

FTC chairman Jon Liebowitz also stated that the investigation will only help Google continue to be more successful in the future while keeping things on a level playing field. After such a long, high profile case, it would be hard to believe that Google will ever try anything unfair in the foreseeable future.

Did the FTC Make the Right Decision?

As with most high-profile cases, there are those who agree and disagree with the FTCs decision, and the opinions are running wild across the web. Below are a few industry leaders opinions about the case:

Scott Cleland explained on the popular Gizmodo that Google was simply not treated the way that Microsoft was treated in the 90s. On that same token, the FTC sued Intel under its Section 5 authority, yet they are letting Google off a “voluntary self-enforcement standard,” which simply doesn’t make sense.

The FairSearch Coalition felt the decision was premature. Google will be making a formal proposal to the European Commission (where they are also under investigation) in just a few short weeks.

Matt Lawson, VP of marketing for Marin Software, saw some of Google’s voluntary changes as a step in the right direction because advertisers will now be provided with true data portability.

What Your Business Can Learn from the Decision

The biggest takeaway from this investigation should be the changes the Google is going to make. It’s important that startup companies (or any company for that matter) take advantage of opting out of special search results if that is best for the company, and take a look at AdWords to see some of the changes that are being made. At the very least, know that Google does appear to be a fair search engine and your SEO efforts should reward you in the long run if you’re really taking SEO seriously.

What do you take away from the FTC decision? Do you think they made the right decision, or did Google get off easy?