Google’s European tactics called into question

We’ve recently seen in the media that Joaquin Almunia, the European Commission’s competition chief, has outlined his disapproval of Google’s tactics within the European search market, saying that the company is giving ‘undue prominence’ to its own services within search results.  In particular he has highlighted concerns around Google’s maps, news and shopping comparison offerings, believing that they are driving traffic away from rival websites.

His comments are part of wider concerns from the other main players in the search and travel markets, such as Microsoft, Expedia and Street Map. They feel that Google is allowing companies to develop the online market for particular goods and services and then using its online influence to eradicate them once it has a full understanding of how to monetise the market and increase its profits.  This is by no means a new tactic, there has been a steady decline in price comparison websites ever since Google purchased BeatThatQuote.com during the early part of last year.

This impact on price comparison now also extends to hotels, holidays and credit cards among others and has led to complaints from its market rivals.  The search engine maintains that they set the results pages out in such a way as to continually improve the user experience, but the main market players argue that Google is seeking purely to monetise the market and are using their vast data resources to do so.

One example of more overt pressure being placed on a market by Google is in the arena of e-books. The example below shows the company employing the ‘knowledge graph’ search function in order to promote specific results on the grounds of ‘usability’.

However, the purchasing option further down the listing is a direct link to the search engines’ ‘Google Play’ online store, leaving minimal space for rivals.

The implications for the search industry and search marketers are that there must be continual efforts to keep up with changes to how Google displays information and tailor tactics to suit.  For example, to achieve effective results in Google shopping SEO professionals need to utilise product reviews and incorporate them into their SEO tactics.

With Google taking what is considered to be a constructive approach to the European Commission’s concerns, this is unlikely to change greatly in the near future, but with the threat of formal forced charges lingering, users and marketing professionals alike must be prepared for a potentially altered search landscape.  It is likely to remain a subject of interest to the industry for some time to come.

Alex Wares is managing director at leading search marketing agency Mediarun