One of the biggest draws to Google for web publishers and ecommerce outfits throughout the years is the idea that Google offers a level playing field. Sure, you can spring a few hundred bucks to a few grand per month to dominate the top paid spot of search results but Google still allowed publishers and ecommerce companies, whether big or small, the chance to rank high in their organic listings. When it comes to organic listings, it is supposed to be the quality of the site that determines its rank-and its income. Well, with Google’s recent announcement of its intention to charge retailers for their listing in searches, another collective assumption about Google’s “level playing field” has gone up in smoke. This is par for the course for more jaded and cynical observers. Anyone remember the previously hyped Google motto of “Do no evil?” We do but it sure is fast retreating into our memories-we suspect we are not alone.
Anyway, Google’s foray into pay to play rewards players who already have the resources to place ads and pay for placement. It upends the whole publishing and ecommerce model Google originally made possible-that small companies and mom-and-pop and one-man operations can successfully compete with bigger players if they are more nimble, more technically adept, and offer real value to their customers. Interestingly enough, while there were some negative reactions to the news from those who are affected, the bulk of the market’s reaction to Google’s move has been positive. This comes as a bit of a surprise to analysts. Mid-sized and specialty retailers with budgets say that this is a good move because it helps fight the race to the bottom of prices which has propped up less than stellar and some downright shady merchants. In essence, by erecting a toll gate to placement on Google, a self-selection process began and, it is hoped, higher quality and better-financed outfits rise to the top of the heap. On the other end of the equation are drop shippers and middlemen who carry no inventory will be the most hurt. This might be a good thing according to some analysts since much of the outdated pages on product searches on Google can be traced to many smaller sites who probably never stocked the product to begin with.
What is the effect of this change? Google will no longer offer free product searches. Retailers and merchants need to pay a fee to appear in Google’s listings. Currently, retailers have been giving a free ride when they supply Google with information about their offerings. The products are then ranked by price and popularity. Under Google’s new “Google Shopping” model, retailers have to pay to appear. Ranking is determined by merchants’ bid pricing as well as relevance. As it stands, Google Shopping is still undergoing testing and tweaking and is expected to be released sometime this fall.
Considering the public relations (as contained as it probably will be) that will arise from this change, what does Google get out of it? Besides the guaranteed extra loot, Google also protects itself from stale product information and low quality content by establishing a relationship with retailers and merchants who now have a bigger incentive to keep their product information up to date and possibly increasing the value of their landing pages.