Posted by randfish
When search marketers get together at a pub and talk, the conversation inevitably turns to Google’s near-monopolistic share of web search. For many of us that are new to the field, Google has consistently been the market leader and focus of most of our efforts. But this wasn’t always the case. Have a look from a historical perspective:
Market Share 2002
Market Share 2004
Market Share 2006
Market Share 2008
Even as recently as 4 years ago, the market was far more balanced between the major players, resulting in serious attention by search marketers to different engines vs. today’s extreme Google-centric mindset. There’s a number of reasons we search folks bring up the problem of the Google monopoly:
- Monopolies can dictate pricing
Google already sets the standard for PPC advertising, but in a future where one engine has 90%+ market share, this power will go up considerably. Even if click fraud rises considerably or Google artificially inflates PPC costs, marketers will have no choice but to pay or go home.
- Monopolies control the rules
Don’t like Google’s stance on paid links, cloaking, data collection, or algorithmic calculations? Too bad. When there’s only one game in town, you either put up or get shut out.
- Monopolies can (much more easily) impose unfair sanctions
Right now, if you step out of line with Google’s guidelines, you can be out of the index or penalized to the back of the rankings. Generally, this power is applied fairly (though not always and certainly not everyone would agree), but a monopolistic environment makes it much easier for Google’s web spam team to apply their personal biases & vendettas to websites large and small.
- Monopolies can make unreasonable demands
Want to be listed in Google’s engine in the future? You might need to provide them with some significant data about yourself or your site in order to be included. Sitemaps & Webmaster Tools are the beginning of a path towards information control (as are data sources like Google Analytics, Toolbar & Desktop). If Google knows more than anyone else about what happens on the web, their monopoloy becomes increasingly impossible to fight against.
- Monopolies are less subject to market forces
Nowadays, Google does a fairly good job of staying one or two steps ahead of user demand and feedback, but in a monopoly environment, the incentives to do so are significantly lower. Just look at all the examples of monopolies that, once their market position was secure, became symbols of consumer anger and frustration.
- Competition against monopolies is considerably more difficult
Building a great search engine is incredibly hard, and getting market penetration might be even harder – just look at Cuill (who failed badly on both counts). It’s not yet as hard as starting a new car company, but it’s getting there (and look how broken the US automotive industry is).
- Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely
Journalists, bloggers, SEOs and searchers have been noticing that over the past few years, Google has gone from sunshine and rainbows to a corporate, for-profit entity. While, as a capitalist, I believe that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that Google’s path towards corruption is on a far more precarious slope. Your data, search history, site analytics and privacy are respected now not just because Googlers think it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the right thing for their business. As monopoly looms, those goals diverge and the incentive to "do the right thing" dissipates.
As an SEO who values not only my personal professional development, but the overall landscape, I’m worried. I believe in innovation, in the power of startups and entrepreneurship to change the status quo and in the value that comeptition brings to any market. Maybe new players can gain a foothold, but with the barrier to entry so high (trust me, building a fresh web index and usable metrics is unbelievably challenging), will there be a chance to break Google’s increasing stranglehold? And if not, how do we handle the challenges of a Google-only world?
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