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In late August, we reported on a lawsuit filed against Google by LendingTree alleging that Google was planning to offer an online lead gen service related to mortgages using technology offered by a LendingTree vendor that was contractually forbidden from working with LendingTree's competitors.

While the status of that lawsuit is unknown, it is now official: Google has entered the lead gen business.

Last Thursday, Google announced the launch of AdWords Comparison Ads:

Today we're excited to begin testing a new feature of AdWords called AdWords Comparison Ads, which lets users compare multiple, relevant offers more easily. Comparison Ads is part of our continuing effort to make ads more relevant and useful to our users and to help you, our advertisers, reach the people who are most interested in your products and services.

Comparison Ads' first market: mortgages. For select searches, Google is now displaying an ad unit that invites users to compare mortgage rates offered by competing providers. Users can also access the comparison service directly via http://www.google.com/comparisonads/mortgages.

The comparison service allows users to view actual mortgage rates being offered by various providers based on criteria such as home price, credit rating, location and down payment. If interested in a specific provider, users can call a toll-free number provided by Google to reach the provider, or they can fill out a form to receive a call from the provider. Google anonymizes users' phone numbers in an effort to protect their privacy. Google charges providers on a cost-per-lead basis when a user calls the toll-free number or requests a call back.

Right now, Comparison Ads is available in select parts of the U.S. and to select providers. Google says that coverage and participation will increase over time. Google also tentatively plans to go beyond mortgages into other markets. Google's Nick Fox told Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land:

We don’t have anything to announce in terms of the future areas this will expand in. We’ll learn from the mortgages experiment, how well it is working, where it is working and based on that, we’ll have a better sense of other places to expand the product to.

Make no doubt about it: Google's move into the lead gen space is a big deal. And if Google succeeds with mortgages and expands into other lucrative lead gen verticals, watch out. As I wrote in my original post about this subject:

In the mortgage space, many of Google's advertisers are themselves middlemen in the business of generating leads. If Google disintermediates their market by building an online loan marketplace of its own, Google would be competing head on with its own customers. Maybe this would prove to be worthwhile, but it could also backfire.

In theory, Google could 'usurp' its SERPs to drive massive amounts of traffic to its lead gen services. Massive amounts of traffic that other lead gen businesses currently pay Google significant amounts of money for on a cost-per-click basis via AdWords. In the mortgage space, Google is essentially already competing with its own advertisers and while there's enough money in the lead gen space to keep a lot of people fat, I'm sure there's a lot of concern about just how much of the market Google might be able to disintermediate if it really wants to.

Beyond the immediate impact to advertisers, there are a lot of additional implications that could evolve out of Google's entry into the lead gen business. Two that spring to mind are:

  • Greater potential of regulatory scrutiny. It's not hard see some similarities between how Microsoft took advantage of its OS monopoly to take over and dominate the market for web browsers and what Google could conceivably do with lead gen. After all, if Google uses its dominant search position to steer users to services its owns, someone will eventually make the argument that it's abusing its dominant position too.
  • The possibility that Google's relationship with consumers will change. Providing a search engine and running a lead gen business are two very different things and Google's relationship with consumers could very well change as it goes from referring consumers to relevant websites to directly connecting consumers to businesses. On the surface the distinction may be subtle but selling advertising and selling leads entail a very different consumer relationship and Google's trust is potentially on the line.

Fasten your seatbelts. If Google succeeds with Comparison Ads, this could get real interesting real fast.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 November, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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This is great. How does one get listed as one of the mortgage providers?

almost 7 years ago

Tatiana Likhacheva

Tatiana Likhacheva, SEO Account Manager at Greenlight

On one hand it looks like a natural way forward in our cutthroat Darwinist society, but I had pink glasses over my eyes and believed in internet equalising the business field and that what Google represented to me through notorious robots. If before Google was strong but somewhat fair leader, now it’s the era of the dictatorship monopolisation and state owned organisation. Maybe I am just a bit too harsh.

almost 7 years ago


Neale Gilhooley

Personally I loath lead generation companies, they get in the way of real bona fide companies and their potential customers by blitzing Google’s PPC ads. The ones that are worst are the ‘tenders made easy’ sites that promise to put you in touch with “Verified Trusted Vendors” but there are no checks at all on the traders, they are just the first ones to buy the new leads. I feel that Trading Standards should look into this industry in the UK as it is a con.

almost 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


It is true that there is a lot of shady activity in the lead gen space. But the same is true of just about anywhere else too, from affiliate marketing to PPC.

The problem with assuming that you can just get rid of all the lead gen companies out there so that consumers can deal direct with businesses is that many businesses aren't very good at lead gen. They offer a product or service but really need to outsource their marketing/lead gen because they wouldn't be able to drum up enough leads on their own. After all, you can be great at selling your product or service once you have a prospect, but selling and prospecting are two very different things.

There are many challenges that will perpetually challenge the lead gen industry but like anything else, it comes down to ROI. If a lead gen company, for instance, is treating its leads like pork barrels and overselling them, eventually most of the businesses who buy from it will realize that they're being shafted and will take their money to someone else. Same is true when leads aren't qualified or are of generally low quality.

almost 7 years ago



I mean google is trying to be the microsoft of online world.

almost 7 years ago



I'll be honest - I don't like what Google is doing here - not only with mortgages, but with other things, too. It's really changing the equation for all web sites if they have to compete with Google who is typically their primary source of traffic.

Google is becoming a serious obstacle to innovation, just like with Microsoft before. It used to be, the moment Microsoft would announce its intention to get into any specific software market, all the financing for start-ups in this market would disappear - usually along with the start-ups themselves. Nobody wants to invest in a company that intends to compete against Goliath. Apparently, the same will be more and more the case with Google. A mere threat of Google moving into any space will instantly kill dozens of start-ups.

Now, where does this destruction end? I don't see any limit. They can potentially kill all product/service aggregators, then all shopping comparison sites, then all consumer reviews sites, then all content sites, leaving the web to be a barren land of amateur content, abandoned blogs and spam.   

Continuing down this path, Google - or, rather, the Internet, will eventually become the new global AOL.

I fail to see how it would be for our benefit anybody besides Google's shareholders to have that kind of a company run our lives.

almost 7 years ago



How do you get listed as one of the providers. I think this would be really awesome

almost 6 years ago

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