Ben Gibson, MD of The Search Agency UK

The latest news that Google has launched another comparison service, Google Cars, comes as no great surprise. For a while Google has been investing in building products in vertical markets: Flights and Hotels being the more recent additions.

For Google these moves make sense; as users become more sophisticated they demand more than the standard generic search results – they want the answers. Without advancing in these areas, Google would leave itself open to a migration of users, especially key near-purchase-ready users, to more specialist vertical engines which can more accurately provide these answers.

However, this makes it an uneasy time to be an intermediary. If your business model relies on the aggregation of others’ data, products or services, you may already be feeling the pinch – if not, you are likely to soon.

Google Shopping is part of the cause of shopping portals slipping in importance; as Google’s other vertical services develop, one would expect a similar trend here. What can be done to avert this? Kayak’s route – cash up while the going is still good – is certainly one option.

Nevertheless, to be viable long term, the key would seem to be either focusing on a niche; luxury or eco for example, or trying the harder road of a straight fight in the general market through one of: access - through new device opportunities; functionality – providing a richer/quicker experience; range – through secure partnerships and loyalty – through clubs and reward programmes.

For brands this opens up new opportunities and a different way of approaching search optimisation and social. Driving after first page rankings for “cheap New York hotels” becomes less important than having demonstrably low prices for your hotel.

Making your prices and details accessible for return within the search engine results page allows you to be found, but beyond this there needs to be work on the social side to build a base of positive Google reviews and pluses to engender confidence and improve click through rates. This will become an increasing trend: exposing and optimising products, pricing and services and supporting these with a co-ordinated social strategy, in order for brands to thrive.

Eventually, brands should gird themselves for higher media costs with Google, as well as an increasing reliance on Google for the provision of leads and sales. The trend seems to be for Google to give away this traffic for free for a while, before then charging for the service once it has proven successful, and once brands are reliant upon it.

Google Shopping is taking this path in the US, with the cost per click model already in place, and different layouts of results in A/B testing. The UK should be heading down this route early next year. This all helps Google’s eCPM, so would seem a reasonable next step in the other verticals.

The mantra Overture once used to emphasise the preference of paid versus organic – it drives relevancy as you’ll only be prepared to pay if you have a chance of generating an end sale – is being used again here. It made sense then, and still does now. That said, it is a big departure for Google to have paid for listings in the main body of results.

Judging by Google’s record, things often change dramatically in a very short space of time. In the wake of these latest developments, brands and intermediaries need to prepare to adapt.

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Published 18 July, 2012 by NMA Staff

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