One of the more disconcerting trends in search of late is the move towards information fetching over just delivering search results and Google continues to enter a variety of vertical markets that publishers once thrived in. Let’s examine just some of the offering that they now compete with publishers on:
Flight Search: http://www.google.com/flights/
Financial Comparison / Credit cards: https://www.google.com/advisor/home
The aim with most of these is to switch advertisers from traditional PPC into a lead generation model. With comparison ads sitting at the top of the search engine result by default, Google can funnel advertisers through their comparison ad program, whilst pushing other ad slots further down the page – and they are essentially competing directly against some of their own advertisers. It also makes smart business sense, with more eggs in more baskets Google becomes more agile on other platforms where other lead gen opportunities may present themselves.
These advertisers are now being forced to either get on the comparison train (by providing data to Google, and thus improving the quality of Google’s own product), or see their advertising spend whither on the vine.
At the very least the visibility of your ads, should you be in any of these markets, will be negatively affected. It’s no wonder the anti-trust claws were out during the Google acquisition of ITA – the data source that currently powers flight search, with more legal waters likely needing to be tread by the search giant going forward as they forage into other markets.
Lead Generation businesses aren’t the only ones they have their eyes on, or have given significant ass whooping to.
Google Places: now Google+ Local – has been infamously badmouthed by Yelp, the services they should have bought (but couldn’t due to Yahoo sticking its nose in) before acquiring competitor Zagat. This video from Yelp CEO provides food for thought for all of us, and if there’s a better example of a company screwed by Google I’m all ears.
Google News – If you provide a feed to Google News – they are supplementing Google+ engagement with your content. I’m guessing with mobile being a problematic area for monetization we’ll see Google News mobile stepping up a gear relatively soon. Whether that is a Google+ mobile feature, or a separate application altogether. Indeed. All your base are belong to us.
IP queries – Go and ask Google what your IP address is. Whilst it was never rocket science sites such as What is my IP address traditionally answered that query, and indeed added value such as displaying your potential location. Now Google have shut the door, instead choosing to work out the answer and leave them out in the cold – with significantly less traffic. No doubt we’ll see other network lookups (domain whois, mx records etc) being next on the target list with the sites which provide that information living on borrowed time.
Earlier this month yet more evidence surfaced of the direction Google and others are are going in. With relatively little fanfare:
Say hello to the all seeing knowledge graph:
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and argue the knowledge graph to be as important to Google as social is in their overall strategy, (note the presence front and centre on the Inside Search page) yet the web is still slow to realise just how big a deal it is. Bing have introduced a similar feature, with their offering called Snapshot actually getting first off the blocks before Google released later this month.
Make no mistake, Google already do a pretty good job at determining keyword context, so the notion that Google have built something new to connect together real world objects is slight of hand. The information is drawn from sources already available. Wikipedia, the CIA World Factbook, (Google owned) Freebase and Google Books. In total the Knowledge Graph database currently contains summaries for 500 million entries, with that figure likely to grow.
Jump to 1:21 in the video to see exactly where they are headed, and what should be the focus of our attention.
More time spent on Google sites = more time exposed to Ads + additional brand loyalty = more revenue for Google.
Yet it is wrapped in a warm blanket with the premise of being good for users.
Make no mistake, Google is becoming an answer engine that is no longer are focused on getting users as quickly onto third party sites. Instead, they are choosing to directly answers queries using the information provided to them from around the web. Information we as publishers are giving them hand over foot without question.
Damned if we do, and Damned if we don’t.
Providing information in a structured format increases your clickthrough rates. This is just one of the best practises we have been baited with. Google’s party line is that we’ll give you more traffic, just tell us what sort of object your page and content is about.
Recipes, People, Video, you name it – there’s a Googlebot ready for that structured data, but then, it’s all subterfuge if Google ends up taking your information, bundling it up into yet another vertical search as part of their engine, and cutting your own site out of the equation.
Google are blatantly throwing their weight around, and like every clever bully trying to evade the teachers attention; all whilst pretending to be your best friend. As the datasets grow in complexity internally at Google, its likely that even more verticals which pick publishers pockets will crop up in the future.