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Is Google becoming a monopoly?

Written by Rosie | 20-Mar-2009 09:23:15

Recent press reports have asked many questions about the current state of the search advertising market, one of the ongoing debates being 'Is Google becoming a Monopoly?’ Google are undoubtedly the number one choice of search engine for the public, currently taking nearly 90% of all searches conducted in the UK (Hitwise). This increasing domination over Yahoo, MSN and the falling number or searches on the smaller networks such as MIVA, Webfinder and Mirago does not look set to end just yet. There is currently a call from 26 MPs urging ministers to ‘consider measures to prevent the monopolisation of the online search advertising market’. More on this discussion will appear in the release of the Digital Britain report on 21st July.

For anyone involved in search engine marketing (SEM), there are two big questions to be asked: Should Google be stopped and could Google be stopped?

The facts are, there are other search engines available, so users have a choice in which engine they use. While these other engines exist this cannot be a monopolised market. If Google is where the audience are, that is where we have to advertise. The trick for marketers is balancing their investment between the search engines. Google may take the majority of traffic, but does that make it the most effective channel? Not always. If you are looking for quality rather than quantity, as an advertiser, you can make the smaller search engines (especially MSN) invaluable to your overall campaign, driving cost efficient traffic beating your KPI’s. That by no means allows you to walk away from Google. Recently studies have shown that public confidence in a brand heavily depends on the brand appearing in search results. The higher cost of Google over the last 6 months means advertisers need to be more savvy with their strategies than ever in order to compete cost effectively. Balancing SEO and PPC are essential so you are not over paying for the most competitive terms in your sector. This means you can be where the audience are without blowing your budget in the first five minutes.

Could Google fall from grace? In short, yes. However big the company, big new ideas always carry risk – it was only recently that a typo in a piece of code caused Google to deem all websites unsafe in its results pages. This was an unexpected event, and only occurred for a few hours, but it happened nonetheless.

Google may lose their battle on the trademark rules. It was only this week that the French courts have been deciding if it is fair that ads for counterfeit goods can appear against trademarked brand names. This could result in a change in the public view of Google. The numerous changes in the regulations of AdWords bidding in the UK over the last year in areas such as gambling and alcohol related terms, and allowing the appearance of uncontrolled ads (we all remember when gambling companies ads offering free credit were appearing against terms such as ‘gambling addiction’) may mean that Google’s mantra of ‘do no evil’ can be seriously questioned.

MPs may get their way and have Google regulated. There are opinions for and against whether Google should be regulated or whether other search engines should up their game. MSN Live Search is likely to be re-branded over the coming months to give better results which may see it’s market share increase.

Although the state of play is unlikely to change overnight, it will happen. For marketers, it is a case of being ready and prepared when the time comes, as we have already started to experience, inflated bid costs in AdWords cannot be sustained by advertisers in current financial times.