Google’s move into comparison verticals is already well underway – with mortgages, cinema listings, product reviews and credit cards already high profile additions to the regular SERPs. So the announcement that they’ve snaffled up BeatThatQuote for a tidy £37 million is no great surprise. Google’s strategy is to screw down into verticals wherever they can, effectively positioning themselves to squeeze out competition later down the line. At some point, your bread-and-butter SERPs for ‘cheap insurance’ or whatever isn’t just going to throw back the big names in the industry, but Google’s own products.
There’s an argument that says that this would make for a better consumer experience: affiliates have rarely been motivated to give impartial recommendations. With a good engine and no need to chase affiliate revenues, Google can put together something pretty sweet.
As anyone who’s had a hand in the comparison/shopping/financial product markets will tell you, they’re industries rife with some big link buyers who have ridden to the top of the SERPs through paid links as well as through big brand pushes (Aaron Wall filleted BTQ quite nicely, thus saving me a job and sparing you reading tedious accusations of hypocrisy in the comments).
For a while, we wondered whether Google would go the whole hog and ban Beat That Quote from the SERPs and, as of time of writing, they have. Of course, in such a notorious industry, they have to. Now that Google are such a vast name, their technical and business decisions aren’t just of interest to SEOs, but the wider media.
The recent JC Penney furoré shows that media awareness of what’s happening in the rankings is (finally!) becoming newsworthy in itself. Just as advertising deals and sponsorships make the business pages, there is no doubt that the press is getting hungry for stories from the world of search – putting Google’s actual practices (rather than it’s share price and PR) under the spotlight.
And so, despite buying the company, Google’s first act has been to can them from the rankings. They don’t even show up for ‘beat that quote‘. Normally, that’s heavy stuff, but here it kind of smells like a PR move. If Google hadn’t have banned them every SEO company in the cosmiverse would have been hotfooting it to Fleet Street waving backlink profiles under the noses of tech hacks. A small sign of the changing tenor of the times.
The really interesting thing is now is what Google does next. Having canned BTQ, do they now go after the whole industry as a kind of double whammy? If they’ve burnt Beat That Quote for their links, surely now they have to start torching all the sites and networks that played a part in supporting their rankings. And given the nature of that industry – and please note that I’m not claiming that other industries are immune – that could play merry hell for other sites.
And if they don’t do that, how long before someone makes their way to the papers to highlight someone with an equally dodgy backlink profile? Could it be that 2011 makes negative press coverage the new, hot SEO tactic. Food for thought.