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European antitrust chief says Google’s auction-based shopping remedy not working

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European antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said yesterday at a conference that Google’s efforts to drive more traffic to European comparison shopping rivals have essentially failed. This is a reversal of her previous, qualified support for the changes Google made in response to a European Commission finding in 2017 that the company had “abused its market position” in shopping search.

The $2.7 billion story. That 2017 determination, which Google has appealed, came with a penalty of nearly €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion). In addition, Google was required to provide “equal treatment” to European shopping comparison competitors on the SERP. That turned out to be a remedy involving bidding for placement in Product Listing Ads (PLAs). It required Google Shopping itself to compete for placement with the comparison engines with no dedicated or reserved slots.

Google Shopping, newly operating as a as a stand-alone business unit, was also required to maintain a profit (20%) and submit to regular review by the European Commission to ensure it’s competing on equal terms.

Complaints from Google’s shopping competitors. While Vestager offered early support for the approach and was encouraged by initial results, the comparison engines vociferously complained about what they perceived to be ongoing unfairness. Among their criticisms were the following:

  • There’s no material difference between the auction and the previous system, which violated EU antitrust rules
  • Google’s pledge to operate profitably is “just meaningless internal accounting, paid from one Google pocket into another.”
  • The auction forces comparison engines to “bid away the vast majority of their profit.” 
  • Because users who click on comparison engines’ PLAs go directly to merchant sites and not the comparison engines themselves, they have no opportunity to “derive value from the process.”
  • Consumers are harmed because the auction-based approach is not based on relevance and “all but eradicating” a “thriving [online] comparison shopping market in Europe.”

Fourteen comparison engines that signed a November 22, 2018 letter to Vestager urged “the Commission to enforce its Prohibition Decision by rejecting Google’s non-compliant ‘compliance mechanism’ and demanding an effective remedy that adheres to the principle of equal treatment set out in the Decision.”

At least one competitor in Europe is asking the European Commission to initiate a “non-compliance case” that could bring further penalties.

Why we should care. Google may get the last laugh if the appeal is resolved in its favor. But the timing of any decision could still be far away. However, in the immediate future, Commissioner Vestager could seek further changes in the SERP to help drive meaningful traffic to shopping comparison sites.

If Google’s auction-based shopping solution is rejected that casts a shadow over another antitrust Google remedy: “search choice” for Android users. Google was planning to use an auction to determine which search sites to present to Android users as their potential default engine. The three highest bidders were to appear, along with Google. But that approach could be undermined by a determination that the PLA shopping comparison auction is fundamentally unfair.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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See the ‘top signals’ informing your Google Ads bidding strategies

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Google’s smart bidding strategies use a host of signals to inform bids with each auction. Now, Google is starting to show which signals are driving performance to optimize bids for people more or less likely to convert.

Top signals. The signals shown might include device type, location, day of week, time of day, keywords, remarketing and Customer Match lists and potentially some other signals. You might also see combinations of signals such as time and keyword. Signals in red are less likely to convert in that strategy, while signals in green are more likely to convert.

(Click to enlarge.) Top signals for portfolio bidding strategies now show in Google Ads.

Where to see top signals reporting. The top signals will show in the bid strategy report. Keep in mind, that report is only available for portfolio bid strategies. The bid strategy report is located from Tools > Shared Library > Bid Strategies. Then select a portfolio strategy.

Google said it will show for Target CPA and Maximize conversions on Search, but you may be able to see top signals for other portfolio strategies. The example above is just for eCPC, in fact.

Why we care. Understanding which contextual signals have particular influence on your automated bidding can give you insights into your target customers and potentially inform your strategy. For example, if you see a keyword being “down signaled,” it may just be a poor match for that particular bid strategy, or perhaps there are ad or landing page optimizations you could make to improve its likelihood to convert.

You might also see trends that can inform other marketing efforts such as email send times. The screenshot above, for example, shows weekends are a strong signal. That could be a good time to test email flights rather than on weekdays.

More about pay-per-click advertising


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day to day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin writes about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.



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Google’s ‘Duplex on the web’ enables the Assistant to buy movie tickets for you

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Google is making it possible to use the Assistant (via Duplex) to buy movie tickets online. Back in May at Google I/O, the company announced that it was expanding the AI-powered Duplex beyond restaurant reservations to booking rental cars and buying movie tickets.

Duplex on the web. Called “Duplex on the web,” users will be able to use the Google Assistant for new reservations and purchase categories. Movies is the latest example.

As shown below, Android users in the U.S. or U.K. can ask the Assistant for movie showtimes or search movies in the Google app. The Assistant will then lead searchers through a “buy tickets” process that involves theater selection, movie times and, if available, seat selection. A saved payment card needs to be in Chrome to work in this case.

Expanding to many more categories. It’s not clear that users will prefer this process to manually booking tickets. However, it illustrates how Google is bringing the sophistication of its Duplex technology to the broader mobile internet.

It’s also not clear how much back end integration needs to be done by publishers to enable this; I suspect not that much. Regardless, I’m sure Google has a roadmap that extends to many other categories where online scheduling, reservations and basic transactions are involved.

Rand Fishkin has been speaking, including at SMX East, about how Google has evolved from “everyone’s search engine to everyone’s competitor” and the SEO implications of this. My view is a bit different.

Why we should care. Google has now talked repeatedly about “helping users get things done in search and with the Google Assistant. This is about making search more transactional and owning the transaction. Google is doing this in shopping and across the board in local (e.g., food ordering).

Google is trying to remove friction and compress the process between search and a sale. It’s handing that process off much less and less to third parties and site owners. This helps Google 1) improve the consumer experience, 2) keep users within its system, 3) create a closed loop for analytics and 4) generate fees or revenue from commerce, which has implications for smart speakers.

If these capabilities (i.e., Duplex on the web) take off, publishers and brands will need to be partnered or integrated with Google actions/services or risk losing the transaction to a competitor. It will also mean that Google owns the customer.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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Google Search Console adds Product results filters to performance report

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Google announced it has added new filters to the performance report within Google Search Console to show you how well your product results are doing in search. Google now captures and displays click and impression data when rich results display based on your use of product rich results markup.

The report. Find this data under the Performance report by clicking on “search appearance” and then on “product results.” You’ll see clicks and impressions and can further segment by device, geography and queries.

What it looks like. Here is a screen shot of the report:

What is a product rich result? Below is a screenshot of what a product rich result looks like, but you can learn more about this in this developer document. Product rich results typically show product ratings, price, availability and some description information. Note that product rich results are not new, just the report in Search Console.

An example of a product rich result in Google search results.

Why we care. The more data the better for SEOs and publishers, and this gives us more granular data on the impact of us adding product rich result markup to our pages. Google said this will show you how much traffic comes from experiences with rich data like price and availability and how does shopping traffic change over time, and the shopping search queries your website shows.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.



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