Please allow me to introduce myself: I am Ms. Search and Destroy. You’ll probably notice that’s not a real name, and that’s on purpose. Darin asked me to post occasionally on his blog, to give the skinny on some of the darker side of search marketing as I see it. I told him that if I was going to do that, I sure as hell wasn’t going to link my name to it. You may not agree with me, but I hope my posts at least make you think. And now, without further ado…
I totally get that as Search Marketing professionals we’re supposed to be cheerleaders for Google. Our whole job depends on making Google happy, right? If we don’t keep on top of the new developments and changes, our clients get pissed. So that really makes me wonder why I’m not hearing more from the industry about something that’s really obvious to me.
Google is finally rolling out mind control.
I’m not wearing the latest in tinfoil couture either, so all of you can stop rolling your eyes and pay attention. At least consider some of the Google-related happenings from the past twelve months and tell me that Google ISN’T showing some suspicious signs.
First, let’s look at this “Google 7” thing. Another writer for this blog covered the fact that starting last August, Google made changes that shift from ten results to seven results, for thousands or tens of thousands of queries. No one really knows for sure what triggers a 7-result SERP; several possibilities have been tested, but nothing has been conclusively linked. Google’s reasoning, which everyone seems so happy to accept, is that they are simply trying to make sure that searchers are getting the most relevant results. Of course. Google, with its cute doodles and its great, fun workplace, is just looking out for us. Such altruism.
What Google is really saying, though, is “Don’t even worry about those other three results. They’re not important. You don’t need to see them.” But what if I, as a searcher, want to see them? Ignore for a moment the needs of a company in one of those positions—as a user, what if I want those results? I could go to page two, but why would I go there? We all know the vast majority of searches—some 90% or more—never get to the second page.
Now, understanding this, let’s look at the fact that the FTC settled with Google—only about two months ago, for fuck’s sake—in regards to Google’s business practices. Notably the FTC was concerned that “those practices could stifle competition in the markets for popular devices such as smart phones, tablets and gaming consoles, as well as the market for online search advertising” [emphasis mine]. While the FTC was bargaining with Google, the EU was conducting its own antitrust investigation; while Google was busy stroking that cat to settle its fur, Google’s competitors were practically begging the EU commission to look at any proposals Google makes with extreme caution, in addition to filing new complaints.
Let’s also look at the fact that Google’s been working on new projects to push competitors out of various spaces—such as its planned Amazon Prime competitor, Google Shopping Express, which offers users the ability to get same-day shipping from retailers—at $10-$15 cheaper than Prime. Google has also recently acquired Channel Intelligence, beefing up its Google Shopping functionality. China’s Ministry of Industry and Technology has also released a recent paper bemoaning the “heavy reliance” that Chinese smartphone developers have on Google’s Android software. Chief among the MIIT’s concerns were the fact that “China’s enterprises constantly face Google’s commercial discrimination, including the delay of timing on codesharing due to agreement restrictions.” There’s also Google’s activity in regards to the growing popularity of Samsung devices; Google acquired Motorola Mobility partly as a defensive measure to compete with Samsung, with Andy Rubin, the man behind Android, supposedly telling others that the acquisition was a “kind of insurance policy against a manufacturer such as Samsung gaining too much power over Android.”
Recent reports have suggested that the move Google is making to its new Enhanced Campaigns, along with other changes—including the 7-result SERPs—have already made for PPC inflation. PPC costs began to rise as early as October of last year, and they’re sure as hell not going down anytime soon.
Let’s look at all of this from a functional standpoint, as far as Google’s bottom line is concerned:
- Google has almost all the tools it needs to drive searches almost exclusively to its own services—while still keeping the FTC and other regulatory agencies happy. If Google’s product, or the products of its affiliates (who they keep conveniently buying), is the “most relevant” for a term, you may never see several alternatives. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Google could simply be using this opportunity to drive insane amounts of revenue. PPC is already up in only about 6 months after the seven-result SERPs started. With limited real estate on the organic results, paid search is going to continue to go up. Google would essentially be holding the ad space ransom.
No matter what way you slice it, the facts add up to a troubling conclusion: Google is leveraging the fact that we depend on it so totally, and question it so little, in order to force us into patterns of behavior in a way it wants. And there’s really only one reason any person or company would do that.