Google’s Threat to Withdraw Search from Australia

Google’s Threat to Withdraw Search from Australia

Google's potential withdrawal from search poses a threat to essential services and reveals the intricate challenges tied to its widespread influence, leaving the government in a delicate position with questions about media protection.

Written by

Gary Nissim

Published

28 January 2021

Categories

Acquisition

SEO


Should the tech giants pay local media companies?

I can’t imagine that Google derives much revenue from displaying paid ads (its main revenue stream) for searches that bring up ‘news’ links or snippets. A search for cryptocurrency news might, but every day searches for news are unlikely to do so. On the flip side, these media companies obtain:

  • paid subscribers for free via Google
  • users and impressions for free from Google that they subsequently monetise by selling banner ads
  • revenue from Google by using its Ad Sense product to sell ad inventory that it cannot sell itself.

My personal view is that if the local media companies are concerned about how Google is using their content to help push its own agenda and drive its own revenue, they should de-index themselves from the search engine. A process that takes minutes.

Will Google pull out?

Although Mel Silva says it’s not blackmail, how else can her comments be viewed?

It’s an aggressive response from Mountain View. It started in January when Google hid some Australian news sites from search results (I bet the media companies saw a drop in online revenue and subscriptions). Amazingly, News Corp’s Group Executive, Corporate Affairs, Policy and Government Relations, Campbell Reid, told the senate hearing: “Their experiment shows how well controlled [Google’s] machine is. One of the massive problems we face … is their entire machine is a black box. How do you negotiate when they hold all of the information? They know more about our [online] businesses than we know about them ourselves”.

The code feels like the free lifeline for the media companies when they should be working harder to remain relevant, and, for me, Campbell’s comment ratifies that opinion.

We understand that Google only talks about pulling searches– not its other products. But so many of their products are integrated with ads; I’m unsure what we would lose. Google has a prior record of pulling out of markets that are or could be far more lucrative than Australia, so we can’t take the threat lightly. I believe Google pulling out of Australia benefits no one, and an agreement will be reached.

What does pulling out even mean?

Obviously, Google wouldn’t make this threat without thinking it through, but how would it work? We really need to understand that before we can understand the effect it would have. There might be other scenarios, but these are a few I can think of:

  1. You cannot access any version of Google Search from an Australian IP – In essence, you cannot access Google whilst in Australia. This seems very harsh and highly unlikely, but it is probably the only way that Google could truly pull out.
  2. You cannot access a local Australian version of Google (e.g. Google.com.au), but you’ll be redirected to the default Google.com. So they are still here (maybe without paid advertising), but when you search, your results would be localised towards America. What would happen if you conducted a search but included a location in it, e.g. ‘local pharmacy in Surry Hills, Sydney’? Would you not get a relevant and, therefore, Australian result?
  3. You cannot access a local Australian version of Google (e.g. Google.com.au), and all Australian-focused content is removed. This would certainly be effective, but whether it is achievable is questionable.

Personally, I believe Google pulling out of Australia benefits no one, and an agreement will be reached.

Gary Nissim

Will Bing fill the void?

Most of us don’t use Bing as it’s simply not a part of our vernacular. Bing works perfectly well and, in some cases, better than Google. If Google pulled out, consumers would simply move across. It wouldn’t work as well as Google as advertisers haven’t paid it enough attention. But that would quickly change; for example, Bing’s map and review products wouldn’t be as comprehensive, but they would build over time.

“Bing works perfectly well and, in some cases, better than Google”.

It would be a time of significant change for agencies, and with change comes opportunity. Although there are universal SEO standards (Schema, site maps, etc.), we still optimise and focus our reporting on Google. There would be a stampede of clients attempting to quickly replace their SEO and paid traffic. For paid media, there would be a huge transfer of accounts and spending over to Bing. The question is whether Bing’s technology and service teams could cope with this mass influx.

It would certainly be painful at the beginning, but I’d like to think the pain would provide suitable gain.

What would Yahoo do?

At the moment, when we advertise with Google and its partners, we advertise on Yahoo. With this loss in revenue and a gap in the market, Yahoo might decide to align itself with Microsoft again or potentially even set up shop in Australia again, selling its own search ads rather than relying on a third party.

Could Apple take advantage?

In recent months, there has been a lot of talk around Apple’s increased activity indexing the internet. Australia is often seen as a market testing ground for similar markets such as the US and UK. Could Apple use Google shipping out as a way to enter a market, build learnings, improve its technology and subsequently roll out globally?

Upshot: Competition would be healthy

I doubt it’ll come to fruition, but if Google does decide to leave the market, I hope that the numerous competitors grab a unique opportunity to take market share, improve their offerings and provide Australian advertisers with the diversity and choice they deserve.

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Written by

Gary Nissim
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