It will have come as little surprise to the digital marketing world this week when FairSearch filed a complaint with the European Commission, accusing Google of ‘abusing its dominance’. Through its anti-competitive strategy, as internet usage shifts to mobile, Google looks to dominate on mobile platforms, increasing its control over online customer data for advertising.
With the global mobile search market now accounting for 5.4 per cent of all paid search, and a number of studies predicting that mobile internet usage is likely to overtake desktop usage in the next 2 years, it is of no surprise that Google is looking to dominate the platform. However, while the negative effects of this dominance to tech companies are obvious through their inability to compete, I want to look into how this will affect search marketing strategies, and how digital agencies and brands can respond.
FairSearch – a group of 17 high-tech companies, including Nokia, Expedia, Microsoft and TripAdvisor – has accused Google of “using its Android mobile operating system as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace, and control consumer data”. Google is said to have achieved its dominance in the smartphone operating system market – with reports from eMarketer stating that the company has 96% of the market – by deceptively giving Android to device-makers for ‘free.’ However, with this package, phone makers who want to include must-have Google apps such as Maps or YouTube are required to pre-load an entire suite of Google mobile services and to give them prominent default placement on the phone. The complaint states that this disadvantages other providers, and puts Google’s Android in control of consumer data on a majority of smartphones (around 70 per cent) shipped today.
How will this mobile domination affect search marketing strategies?
The more of the mobile landscape Google controls, the more dominant it will become in every area. As more people use Google products, they get used to the interface and draw on these, and the search function especially, as default. Additionally, when consumers search, the company acquires more data, becomes smarter and is ultimately able to provide a better user experience. Even now, Google is trialling an update where, if a user is logged in to their Google account, searches are tied up with emails, calendars and documents, returning a whole host of personal as well as more general results. While I’m sure this will enhance the user experience, there are concerns it may be venturing slightly too far into Big Brother land.
The simple fact is that search is not fair anymore, to the consumer or to non-Google companies. Google does not bring up the best search results; it favours its own sites, or its partners. Subsequently, in paid search, to appear at the top of the page and gain the same traffic as previously, brands have to spend more money. There seems to be a growing feeling that the Big Giant has strayed somewhat afield from its original values through acquiring companies and products which will effectively compete with the other companies listed in the non-Google owned search listings. Even their guidance for earning your search visibility is shot out of the water when they acquire a new product that then becomes centre stage.
In the same way as Google’s desktop dominance, there is no doubt this mobile monopoly will make it harder for agencies to plan to spread bets when Google is increasingly using a heavy hand against companies and agencies in their fight to grow and make money. There seems to be occasion after occasion where Google is shaking up the search landscape with decreasing visibility of search performance due to encrypted search, Penguin’s ever increasing anchor text, no follow, marketing sensitivity and monopolising the market. It is sometimes hard to see what road Google will take next; what they will penalise, what they will favour with the next search algorithm change, and to be honest, it seems their motives do not always add up.
Personally I can understand why they do not want companies to pay for links and I am firmly in the camp of earning your presence in the search landscape. However, I cannot see why Google does not just remove the value and benefit of paid links and focus on the engagement signals, which in theory roll out a filter rather than a penalty. Why penalise companies such as Interflora with a heavy hand and delist them temporarily, instead of simply removing the benefit felt from the historic way of optimising for SEO? If Google continues to do this it will increasingly be seen as a sleeping dragon; not the company everybody looks up to, but the one people spend their careers trying not to wake.
Nobody, except Google of course, knows what is around the corner. With that in mind I believe agencies need to start shifting their focus onto the other search engines and looking to build a healthy campaign which would ease any loss should Google decide to target their client’s sector. It is important not only to try and future-proof our work but to hit the curve early, so building upon non-traditional routes into Google through their networks that will continue to provide traffic and ROI could be key.
Agencies can make the most of Google’s unpredictability, as long as they make sure everything they do for their clients is transparent, and their strategies are robust and varied. Brands simply cannot keep up with the changes to algorithms, legislations and Google’s new products, so online marketing agencies, as the experts, need to take this on and carve an even larger niche in the big world of search.