Google has had a rough time of it of late. In the past month it has had to hobble its own browser’s rankings after the search giant breached its own rules on paid links; been accused of breaching trust for its integration of Google+ into its search results; apologise to the Kenyan local search directory Mocality for scraping its database and claiming a fictitious relationship with the company; and been fined $500 million dollars for helping Canadian pharmacies to illegally sell controlled substances to US customers via AdWords. Add to this a couple of weighty anti-trust investigations looming on either side of the Atlantic and you start to wonder; can a search engine ploughing on so wilfully through dangerous waters continue to dominate the market? And if not, what does this mean for search engine optimisation and the humble SEO agency?
Greg Sterling, over at Search Engine Land, has argued that the Mocality fiasco was something of a Rorschach test for people’s opinions of Google. If you view the company as a deserved market leader that is forever looking for ways to give its users better and more relevant results, then it was the sort of unfortunate misjudgement that can occur within any large corporation. When you employ over 30,000 people around the world, it’s almost inevitable that some of them will make mistakes. The same goes for the pharmacy sting. If, on the other hand, you see Google as the golden boy who let hubris take control, then the current barrage of criticism is nothing but a very large whirlwind being reaped.
You don’t have to work for an SEO agency to see the irony. A decade ago, Microsoft was facing similar anti-trust investigations regarding its bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. It was the end of Microsoft’s run as the hot property of the digital world. Google, however, was on the rise. Its clean, user-friendly interface and relevant results were a genuine innovation in those days of the dotcom bubble. Today, Microsoft is still trying to rebuild its brand image, but it is Google which is facing a mighty fall from grace.
The same anti-trust probes which damaged Microsoft’s dominance of the browser market aided Google’s dominance of the search market. In the UK, Google now accounts for 91% of all search engine traffic, but a punitive result from the EU’s investigations could see that shift. If so, it would ironically be Microsoft-owned Bing that would be best placed to move in and take up some ground. Bing currently only accounts for 4% of the UK market, but in the US their share stands at around 15%.
But what does this all mean for the humble SEO customer? Currently, most SEO agencies are going to focus their attentions on Google. And why wouldn’t you? With 91% of the local search market, you’d be mad not to focus your search engine optimisation there. But if Google slips, then cross-platform optimisation is going to be of greater importance. That might, on the one hand, prove beneficial for online marketing and SEO agencies. No longer will one change to Google’s search engine algorithms have the potential to put entire companies out of business. On the other hand, it raises new issues of how and where resources should be deployed. When it comes to Pay Per Click and paid search, the budgetary decisions become even more fraught.
Having said that, 10 years on from its drubbing Microsoft Windows still holds around 90% of the global operating system market. There’s no reason to think Google will take any harder a hit. It may lose its cool guy image – arguably it has already done so – but people are used to it and it still delivers nice, clean, relevant Search Engine Results Pages. There’s a reason Bing and Ask work so hard to emulate it, and why the cluttered SERPs layout of Yahoos past have been abandoned. Bing may make some ground, but at KPI we’re already accounting for that; we track clients’ performance on Bing and Yahoo as well as Google, aware that at least one of those (and guess which one) might have an interesting future. For now, Google is here to stay, but if you want to work with an SEO agency who understand the importance of cross-platform search engine optimisation, get in touch.
Is Google the future of Search Engine Optimisation? Probably. Ask Jeeves.