Google Product Search is now for paying advertisers only – free product related search results are no more. Instead merchants will bid to have their products displayed above organic search results.
By making a fundamental change in the way they operate, Google is tampering with the Internet ecosystem that they helped to build. Google might have built up our Internet ecosystem virtually single-handedly, but it’s no longer the only game in town.
Social media is putting up its hand and shouting “Play me coach“! Will businesses and marketers heed the call, or stick with the search giant they currently rely on?
If you’re not familiar with the latest changes being rolled out by Google, read these articles first for a bit of background information:
- How Google Product Search will affect small business SEO SEM strategies and how to cope
- How paid Google product search results affect the future of SEO and Internet marketing
How Google search and the Internet work prior to paid product search
Google search and the Internet ecosystem operate symbiotically, in a delicate balance of financial incentives driven by the demand for information online:
- Google needs to return high quality content to people using search
- Advertisers need to get their products and services in front of those people
- High quality content producers generate large amounts of targeted traffic
- Advertisers reward high quality content producers financially, setting up competition
- Google benefits because it has more high quality content to return
- High quality content producers benefit because they get financial rewards
- Advertisers benefit because they get their ads in front of the right people
- Users benefit because they get the high quality information they need
It’s a beautiful organic system driven by competition and financial incentives. But how will removing the financial incentive to create quality content around products and services affect business, SEO and marketing strategies online?
How paid Google Product Search affects the Internet ecosystem
Paid product search cuts out steps 3, 4, 5, and 6 from the list above, which basically decimates the Internet ecosystem.
By allowing advertisers to go directly to Google, the financial incentives to create high quality content are removed. Without those financial rewards, content creation will no longer be sustainable as a business practice.
Instead merchants can focus on effective ad bidding campaigns and designing high converting landing pages.
How paid product search affects more than product searches
You might argue that since Google Product Search only affects product related searches that this is all a storm in a teacup. I think paid product search affects every piece of content online. Here’s why:
- The majority of Web traffic originates with Google.
- Advertisers have to compete to sell their goods, so ad budgets will be adapted to cater for Google paid product search. Since budgets won’t magically grow, ads in third party content must decrease.
- Ad revenue will diminish regardless of whether or not the content subject matter is about products because advertisers are selling products.
In a nutshell, why should marketers advertise on a blog or website if they can go straight to Google? Yes, there might be scope to advertise on outstanding creative, and unique content, but fundamentally, advertisers have to compete at the point of origin of traffic more fiercely. Otherwise, they will simply lose out to competitors who do compete well on paid product search.
Why paid product search is bad for Google
While most people can’t tear their eyes off the mind boggling amounts of revenue Google is set to make from paid product search, that money is being diverted from… everyone else on the Internet.
Google thrives today because it is a platform from which businesses can create wealth. But in one single, momentous decision, they are doing an about turn and saying “Google is now a platform from which we [Google] can create wealth“.
It’s fair enough, in my opinion. They did all the work to build up this most excellent tool for cataloging and returning information. They don’t owe the world anything, and I wholeheartedly support them in all their endeavors.
But by removing the financial incentive to create content they are effectively white-anting or eroding the engine that drives their success.
What Google has failed to take into account is that the Internet is a bigger place than them, they are merely its gatekeeper. As we’ve seen time and time before, the Internet is not sentimental. As soon as something is no longer of value, it dies, and Google may not be immune to this effect.
How the Internet will adapt without Google
By claiming the lion’s share of the search advertising pie, Google will force entire industries to find alternatives. People are resourceful. They can’t stop Google from implementing paid product search, but they can stop creating content for Google and using search as their point of origin.
With less content being created, and less people obsessing over their Google search rankings, because there is less at stake, Google itself will start to become less relevant. [gasp, shock, horror]
But where will people go?
Meet search’s kid brother, social media
Social media is already big business. Not quite in the same league as search, but it’s a nascent technology for marketers and business, and everyone’s still finding their feet. What social media needs is for something to really encourage people to start using it for business – hmmm, let me think!
Business and marketers will start migrating to the social media equivalent of organic search. Instead of PageRank, we’ll use social influence. Instead of traffic, we’ll use followers. Instead of bounce rates, we’ll have engagement, and so the list goes on.
Search will always be relevant to the Internet and business. And right now it may be hard to imagine an Internet that is not dominated by search, because that’s how it’s always been. But it’s not written in stone that the Internet must work the way it does. Google would do well to remember that… and consult me next time they decide to drop a bomb like this :)
What do you think? Is your business already bidding on Product Search? How’s it going? Are you worried that big budget brands are going to wipe out smaller businesses? What are we going to do with the tented camps of out-of-work content marketers?
Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments… and good luck with 2012.