Thursday, June 29, 2017

Google's Antitrust Problems & the Future of Organic SEO

Most reports of the European Commission's decision to fine Google €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion) for alleged abuse of its search results have focused on the details of the case, including the fine--the largest ever. So far, no major SEO publications have attempted to predict how the case may effect search home and abroad.

This lack of insight for an industry famous for "trends" and predictions is unusual, but not surprising. The media coverage about the case has not been uniformly clarifying. Most readers could be excused for experiencing a certain confusion about the details. So what's going on, exactly?

First, most outlets, including Business Insider and the BBC have presented the case as about Google Shopping, "the graphical bar," Shona Gosh reports, "that shows up any time you search for a product."

In her article for Business Insider, Gosh offers the example of a search for "frocks," which yields, first, the Google Shopping bar for frocks. Many similar product searches (but not all searches, as Gosh states) yield the same Google Shopping bar. Here's an example for "green pants."

This bar at the top of the page occupies a fair amount of real estate, especially on mobile devices, where the results take up most of the space "above the fold." The problem, as the European Commission believes, is that this shopping bar is unfair to other comparison shopping sites (not Amazon, as seen above, but other unnamed sites) who are placed below Google's branded shopping service.

Since Google's shopping service is, in fact, a different product from search, Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner in charge of competition policy, believes "Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors."

Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner in charge of competition policy, said Google is "not allowed to abuse their power in one market to give themselves an advantage in another market ... Our investigation has proved Google has done exactly that." [Photo source]

Another report, from The New Yorker, incidentally, does not mention Google Shopping at all. "Google’s case shows that the antitrust battle is much more confusing in a digital world," writes Adam Davidson. Indeed. Davidson states the simplest of explanations, that "the commission said that Google unfairly preferred its own services to those of competitors," yet then cites an entirely different reason for the case: reviews.

"When people searched for local restaurants, mechanics, or other services," Davidson writes, "the search engine placed its own Google-branded ratings far above those of competitors such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. In other cases, Google would put, on its own pages, quotes from places like TripAdvisor and Yelp, decreasing the motivation of searchers to go visit those other sites and depriving them of audience and advertising revenue."

In Davidson's article, there is nary a mention of the words emblazoned behind Vestager's image above: Google Shopping.

The point of Davidson's article, however, that "Google was, essentially, absorbing their entire business model into itself, and taking all of the ad money that went along with it," is in line with the general premise of the EU's antitrust case. It's just the specifics of the case--they're entirely different from most other publications.

How Will the Case Effect SEO?

As we noted, no SEO experts (as of post time) have ventured a guess about how this ruling will change search and SEO. Google must make changes within 90 days, however, or face a fine of 5% of its worldwide daily turnover.

So there will be changes. Google will likely change the SERP (search engine results page) in Europe, and the changes may influence worldwide SEO efforts, forcing some businesses who have paid for promoted ads to seek promotion elsewhere or double down on organic SEO

Obviously, organic SEO is the approach preferred by this blog. In contrast to the paid results of Google Shopping, organic results appear as a result of a website's relevance to any given search. The search engine industry uses the term "organic" to make a distinction between results that satisfy the search engine's algorithm and paid results.

Google calls an organic result a "free listing," whereas "non-organic search results are paid advertisements."

This is the standard definition However, in the world of search engine optimization (SEO), the meaning of "organic" is more nuanced.

Learn more about organic search: "What is Organic Search?"

Organic SEO with Stepman's SEO

The Organic SEO Blog is sponsored by Alex Stepman, of Stepman's SEO. If you're serious about website performance we suggest calling Alex: 215-900-9398. We list this number, of course, to promote Alex, but also to offer a resource for any questions you might have about organic SEO and the evolving nature of search at home and abroad.