The many products offered by Google through search, advertising technologies, software and cloud computing have become a hallmark of everyday life.
Their revenue figures, new office locations, new partnerships and technological developments are always a newsworthy source. However in recent years the subjects of tax avoidance, misuse of search results and unfair market dominance are ones that are pushed to the forefront.
Of course, like any company Google are quick to defend themselves and dispel these claims. When Google was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, their unofficial slogan was “don’t be evil’. However, the 5 points below suggest that the Stanford University students didn’t quite stick to this mantra and they certainly wouldn’t want you Googling them.
- They went back on their promise
Back in 1996 the idea of Google’s search engine was just a research project for Page and Brin, which was separate to the PhD degrees they were studying for. They later bemoaned the fact that it was taking up too much time and attempted to sell it to Excite CEO George Bell for $750,000 (who infamously turned them down). Right before the pair tried to flog the now $66 billion company, they wrote a thesis about search engines, which read “Advertising-funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers”.
They had called search engine bias “particularly insidious” and they had coined a mission statement from the outset which was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. However, 90% of the $66 billion revenue they accumulated in 2014 was from search.
- It’s impossible to come out on top
How does Google stay up on it’s perch? A recent study by Moz showed that the first 5 search results gather around 72% of the clicks. Google are fully aware of this, a simple search for the popular singer “Rihanna” brings up Google Play, YouTube & Google +, all of course Google products. Where does Rihanna’s official site feature? Result number 6.
This same principle can be applied to anything, search for a review of a restaurant and you’ll receive Google Places. Looking for a cheap flight? Google Flight Search will be the first result you encounter.
This supposed market dominance has led to a lengthy court battle. In April of this year the European Union reinvigorated their investigation into the search giant. Senior Vice-President Amit Singhal claims that the results “have not harmed the competition”, the EU’s competition watchdog Margrethe Vestager stated that “This is about consumers getting the best possible results for their queries so they have choice and about businesses being able to present their innovative products to consumers”.
- Spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon
At this point you may be thinking, but Google offers products such as search, gmail and maps for free, they can’t be all that bad surely? Yes to an extent, however every time you use these “free” services you are playing into Google’s hands, as they begin to collect data on you.
A major part of the 90% that Google generates through search is attributed to targeted advertising. From Google’s perspective, the more personal information they know about you, the better. Reason being, this allows Google to sell advertising to companies who will feel they can effectively reach their target market. As more and more companies start reaping the benefits of this, the higher ad prices will become and the more money Google will receive.
This intrusive tactic led to a hilarious office prank in the US, which was displayed on Reddit. A worker discovered that his spoons were disappearing from the lunch room. When his co-workers emailed him they placed “spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon” in the footer of their emails, in white text so he couldn’t see it. He then began to start seeing adverts for spoons and believed Google to be reading his mind.
- They are reading your texts
In April 2015 Google released an algorithm favouring companies whose sites were mobile friendly, as a result of the tipping point of search from desktop.
More and more people use their mobiles to shop, conduct searches and so on, which has led to a surge in the importance of apps in regards to information. Surely this is a danger to Google? As people become less reliant on search engines.
What Google realised is that they now need to search inside your apps in order to maintain its relevance when you reach for your phones. Beshad Behzadi who is Director of Conversational Search recently showcased ‘Google Now On Tap’ during SMX Paris 2015. The feature allows apps to react to what’s on the screen, in Behzadi’s example he was texting with a friend about the film ‘Tomorrowland’, the apps were able to read his conversation and the most relevant were shown.
A very handy tool you may say and many agreed, but it begs the questions, can apps back out? Where is the data of your conversations being sent to? and how long before they start picking up keywords in conversation?.
In regards to the ‘Tomorrowland’ discussion, which app do you think was chosen as the most relevant and useful for the consumer. IMDB, Flicker, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video? It was in fact YouTube, where you could watch the films trailer, a Google owned product.
5. You don’t get what you pay for
Another controversial way in which Google generates its revenue is through PPC advertising. Over 1.2 million companies worldwide use the Google Search Network and year on year spending rises between 15 – 20%.
A lot of people who start out on Adwords think that all they need is a high bid and they will come out on top. Of course Google’s information on ‘Quality Score’ is readily available and states a number of factors that determine whether you receive traffic or not.
The most important of these to Google is Click Through-Rate (CTR). Why? Well, to Google the ads that are clicked more are seen as more popular, which in turn results in more money in Google’s pockets. So those ads are pushed to the top.
This is particularly difficult for small companies looking to obtain a foothold in their market. People are more likely to click the companies they know and the lesser known companies find it incredibly to compete with them when their limits are 25 characters for a title and 70 character for a description.
Author: Richard Protheroe is a content marketer for Veeqo who supply cloud-based inventory management software for retailers selling on multi-channel platforms such as eBay, Amazon, Shopify and Woocommerce.