Google monopoly reaches a disturbing new low, practically taxing every business and consumer online.
Google has confirmed the gradual (but looking rapid) introduction of changes to its service. This will compound their dominance to the detriment of every online business and the online consumer too.
It is time to expose their practices, hold them to account and force them to make changes for the good of the UK online industry, for UK innovation and to protect UK consumers’ interests. I call on the UK digital industry and every citizen that uses the Internet to stand up and say 'Enough' to Google’s monopoly, and demand that our government and others abroad, listen and act.
There is a solution to break this industry open, one that would invigorate the digital economy and give a better deal for consumers, whilst circulating enough cash in the UK economy to do beneficial things like help run the National Health Service. To that end, I have launched a petition to ask our government to begin to review the dominance and negative impact Google is having on the UK search industry and our economy as a whole.
The change - encrypted search
Changes were made in 2011 to encrypt search terms if a user was logged in to Google or using Chrome, YouTube, Gmail etc. Google did it to “protect the privacy”of its users. This is just a smokescreen that has since helped them prepare to monopolise the entire market. Google have now extended this suppression of valuable data to all users, not just those using a Google product. This however does not protect user privacy, it just means a website owner can now only ever credit Google directly with their web traffic.
What is Google actually doing? When a consumer lands on a website after clicking on a Google search result, the website operator has no information on how or what the consumer had searched for. Previously, and currently with Yahoo and Bing the referring URL contained valuable data about the originating search and this data could be acted on immediately and compiled through analytics platforms. This is not the case anymore, the referring URL can only be seen if it was the result of a consumer clicking on a Google 'paid Ad word' result.
This means website operators now do not know what the consumer was searching for and therefore cannot optimise their website content and user experience to help the consumer. Online conversion is therefore less likely and the consumer will invariably spend more time searching on Google, which will earn Google more search budget.
The search criteria are encrypted.
Yesterday Google admitted that it is in the process of switching to encrypting 'ALL' search traffic from Google unless the consumer clicked on a paid link on Google, known in the industry as an 'Ad word'. This means that if a consumer does a search on Google and clicks on an organic search result, the consumer will arrive at the clicked through website, but the website will not know what the consumer was searching for.
Google already see multiple searches for a single successful journey through a website to happen and they earn multiple times for every successful search, but clearly, that isn't enough.
SEO is now dramatically affected, since it cannot possibly attribute traffic or conversion effect. So who will take SEO seriously now? Ad delivery, retargeting, display etc cannot now compete with Google, because they won't know what consumers were looking for and ad display is now a case of pot luck. Potentially this could lead to multiple job losses in this sector of the digital economy.
Google have gone further in the following key ways:
• Suppressed search data within their analytics program, they now exclusively hold all the data.
• Dedicated more home page space to paid search results over organic, content driven results. An average browser size contains 15 results, 3 at the top, 8 at the side and the additional 5 middle and lower. Heat maps prove that in many cases 90%+ of consumers naturally look at the exisiting top results anyway, so this additional focus further penalises organic results.
• Have spiraled PPC pricing ever higher - websites that were already spending 80%+ of their digital budget on search, now need to spend multiples more in order to maintain a position because content marketing will no longer be enough.
How rapid is this increasing effect?
Searchenginewatch.com reported on October 10 2012 that 85% of all search result listings were organic. The problem there was that 53% of consumers click the top area, of which the majority of results were Google paid results. By February 25th 2013, Bunnyfoot.com reported on that 81% of results clicked were Google's.
Google are self-policed and lots of website owners worry about being penalised if they do not play to the ever-changing Google rules. So there will be limited alternative options to employ techniques to gain visibility for their products, unless they ultimately spend more on Google Ad words.
The damage to the consumer
Firstly, consumers will spend more time searching, because Google search engine does not deliver the right result every time, in fact the majority of Google's budget comes from searches that lead nowhere.
Secondly, many consumers think that Google is a natural directory for the Internet. Whilst they know there is some advertising, many do not know to what extent and 100% of consumers would rather find exactly what they are looking for than be presented with Google's advertising priorities. Bunnyfoot.com reported in the earlier referred to article that 40% of consumers do not realise they are clicking on adverts. When you have organisations like the ICO (Information Commission Office) complaining about advertising without user consent, surely it is hypocritical that Google do not also have to be transparent about displaying paid for adverts?
Thirdly, this move will lead to vastly increased costs for all online businesses. If they do not take Google’s PPC route, they will be ranked lower, so businesses will have to spend a lot more with Google and the consumer will ultimately pick up the bill. On an ethical note, that money is not even being circulated back into the UK economy from whence it came, but rather, largely extracted.
The Internet has been built on innovation and continues to evolve to drive experience, efficiency and choice. It is the revolution of our age. Technology is the single most important development of our century, enabling information around the world. However to use an analogy the global digital industry, governments and their people are swarming around like worker bees while one Queen Bee sits on all the honey. We made you, but you control us.
A complete lack of search variation, of content variation in listings and a singularly controlled advertising platform are stifling innovation in the digital industry. The lack of competition in search is making it harder and harder for websites to operate and represents a textbook monopoly.
I heard recently about a monopoly enquiry into Global Radio here in London, the Government commission were concerned that one company owned too many radio stations, meaning that the few million that tuned into a radio station in a small town, might not have enough choice of advertising? And yet Google control the spine of our digital economy and go unchallenged?
If we were to create the Internet 2.0 today can you imagine industry leaders sitting around a table and saying "here's a great idea, we've spent on the infrastructure and retail, services, even our utilities, taxes and banking will now be online, saving consumers time and money in finding what they want. Now let's create a directory, so everyone can find these sites and let's give the control, pricing and profitability of that directory to one private company to run it however they like?"
Well, that's what we have today!
I have raised this ethics issue before: Google can earn £11Bn in profit in the UK over a 5-year period yet pay £6m in taxes. This is mass capital extraction from the UK economy. Their PR smokescreens include investing in brand new office space and creating tech hubs and employment. But wouldn’t we all do more of those things if the rest of us homegrown UK digital companies paid nominal tax too? My company Ve Interactive manages to pay its dues in taxes and still donates its digital services to a British charity. We give back too.
So enough is enough. Please join me in starting the ball rolling to break up Google's monopoly. Please sign my petition, so that we can insist that our government and governments around the world take the initiative to do the following:
• Break up Google’s monopoly - turn it into a regulated industry, license providers of search.
• Make all 'brand' searches top result and free of charge, search 'Sainsbury' deliver Sainsbury, for free.
• Force Google to dedicate half of the results to other search and advertising companies - like guest beers in pubs, which prevented the breweries controlling which beers we can drink.
• Insist that all traffic arriving at a website from Google openly displays where it came from and from what search term.
• Declare that revenue generated in a country is reported and taxable in that country.
• Force the break up of Google's ownership of Google, Chrome, YouTube, Gmail, and Google+, because Google are manipulating data and insight from one company in order to monopolise its position with another.
There has always been a wry smile about the lifestyle verb ‘To Google,’ but it’s time now that regulation needs to catch up, to address the massive commercial burden that this verb is now inflicting on our way of life and economy.
It’s time to say no to paying a Google Tax and no to monopolistic exceptions for a company that destroys choice and stifles innovation, to the detriment of our UK digital economy and our consumers.
If you agree and feel strongly about the future of the UK digital economy, please sign my petition.
David J. Brown
Co Founder & CEO