The tech giant Google has had it share of headlines in recent weeks. From an escalated antitrust investigation by the European Union, to a massive shift in its mobile search algorithm, and most recently, the establishment of a fund to help online news publishers, Google has been dominating recent digital conversations across the UK and the continent. Questions linger about whether any of it will negatively affect the US-based company. What is clear, Google is continuing to react to changes in the marketplace, and they are continuing to set the agenda for most others to follow.
An unfair playing field
Announced a couple of weeks ago, the European parliament is expected to call for a break-up of Google’s control of European web searches. There has been a long-running antitrust case against the tech giant by the EU and it seems to be reaching a head. According to media sources, there may be “unbundling [of] search engines from other commercial services” as a potential solution to ending Google’s control of the local search engine markets. Google has tried – at least three times – to settle the case with the EU, but their offers have been re-buffed. The parliamentary group have been investigating Google after complaints it has abused its dominant position since 2010. In September, the EU’s incoming digital commissioner Günther Oettinger, said he believed any settlement with Google could “cement its strength in the market rather than diluting it”. Most recently, government leaders have enacted “right to be forgotten” legislation allowing people to delete their information from Google search results.
Last week Google released some changes to their search algorithms, all supposedly designed to increase the visibility of mobile searches. Google mobile search results will no longer display a website’s URL. Now, search results will include a more reader-friendly site description. But a week after the change’s release, in European searches especially, the effect of the change has yet to make waves according to most SEO experts. Google has announced a change to its mobile search algorithms to include the real-world name of a website rather than the domain name. Mobile search results will also include a “breadcrumbs-like format” for the URL structure of the site. They hope the change will allow searchers on mobile devices to get a better understanding of the results in a limited, mobile space. The domain name change feature is only affecting US searches at the moment, but Google has plans to roll out breadcrumbs worldwide. There is the potential for this change to impact millions of sites, much more than Google’s last major search ranking algorithm updates, Google Panda and Penguin.
Starting in 2011, the changes in search parameters have been updated several times, and it is estimated that 12% of all sites that Google rated to have low quality have been affected.As the mobile algorithm change is still rolling out, it is impossible to determine just how many sites will be affected. Recent Forrester Research estimated almost four out of 10 of all large brand websites — businesses with 1,000 or more employees — do not meet Google’s criteria.
A possible olive branch
This week, Google may be attempting to placate certain parts of their opposition by announcing a partnership with a group that criticised their apparent monopoly in the past. Google is now working with eight news outlets (including the UK’s Financial Times and Guardian) to develop publisher-friendly products and create a €150 million (£109 million) “innovation fund.” News organisations have complained in the past that Google search results often give away too much of a story allowing users to get details without having to click. There are critics to the plan, however. Only big players in the industry are included in the collaboration, not independent, smaller digital news services. And many believe offering money instead of real change may be no solution at all. And, ultimately, it may do nothing to sway the minds of European antitrust investigators.