After a decade, Google Product Search is transitioning from a free organic search tool into a paid inclusion service called Google Shopping. This new pay-for-placement has generated its share of detractors:
Google is compromising its objectiveness by moving towards a pay-for-placement service. This change has the potential to hurt small retailers if they cannot afford to pay for placement.
–Max Goldberg, The Radical Clarity Group (courtesy RetailWire)
What burns me the most is without us, Google would have no business. They use our content to make money as they have no original content to contribute. And now they want to charge us a fee. Do no evil my arse.
What’s at stake
Pay for placement supplants what used to be free for advertisers with search optimized pages. Yes, it is indeed a change from Google pledges made in the past. However, it improves the search experience for users and its time has come.
It’s true Google’s prior “don’t be evil” stance denigrated paid placement. Here’s a passage from Google’s IPO filing (courtesy Danny Sullivan):
“We believe it is very important that the results users get from Google are produced with only their interests in mind.”
“Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion.”
Times are changing
Here are four reasons why this is better for search users:
1. Merchants with skin in the game will provide fresher information. Products will be up to date.
2. Affiliate sites that step in between Google and the merchant will lose traffic. This clears up inefficiency.
3. Hard-to-find products (aka those that gain from search engines) will benefit disproportionately. Specialized terms indicate higher purchase intent
4. Merchants will have the opportunity to market special offers such as “30% off.” Advertisers can feed incentives directly to search results on page one.
So what if Google fails the purity test?
The reality is businesses change their minds in the service of customers and profits. Purity of ideals is not a winning strategy in the marketplace.
All-in-all, 80% of Google’s activities have improved content relevance, including that from merchants. And contrary to the above, spending money to get better search results has never only been the province of big brands.
Google has become the dominant search engine by levelling the playing field for advertisers. In fact, it now IS the playing field. Google may see some budgets shift to Bing and Yahoo, but it will increasingly command higher shopping traffic. Advertisers of all sizes who play ball can win that traffic.