The advent of search engine technology could be said to be perhaps one of the best inventions in the realm of marketing. Search engine optimization (SEO) has revolutionized online marketing and has enabled small, medium and large enterprises promote their business and brands in the digital world. Powered by the search engines, businesses are able to use various search engine optimization tools and techniques to give their website higher ranking in the search results. Think of the search engine as a robust internet-based software that crawls, discovers and stores information for retrieval and presentation in response to user queries. The popular search engines in the world include: Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com, AOL.com and China’s Baidu just but to mention a few.
However, there has been a lot of debate pertaining to the abuse of antitrust rules by the search engine companies. Antitrust laws are regulations intended to promote free competition in the marketplace by keeping in check monopolies. The search engine companies have been accused of muzzling competition by demoting rivals on the search results and in extreme cases eliminating them altogether.
A case in point is Google, owned by Alphabet Inc., which was fined a whopping Euro 2.42 billion. European Commission established that Google has systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service while demoted rival comparison shopping services in its search results. The competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said that Google’s practices have harmed competition and consumers in EU economic area which is illegal under EU antitrust rules. “Google’s practices have deprived millions of European consumers of the full benefits of competition, genuine choice and innovation,” she said. Google was ordered to change the way it operates, and to face the consequences of its actions. This case has set a major precedent in antitrust laws and already Google has a number of its services under investigation for violating antitrust.
So, what’s the future of search engine marketing in the wake of stringent enforcement of antitrust laws?
The enforcement of antitrust laws is going to tilt the scales in favour of small players who are discriminated in the search engine results. Currently, businesses, especially those operating in extremely competitive space like fashion, e-commerce have spent large sums of money in promoting their web page ranking on search results. This means that small enterprises without considerable financial muscle for buying ads on the search results page are disadvantaged. The EU in their judgement pointed out that companies need to compete on a level playing ground and on merit. In the long run, we will have the search engine truly liberalized where businesses, large and small can compete fairly.
In the short to medium term, the anticompetitive behaviour by search engine companies will be dealt with on a case by case basis mitigating complaints in specific jurisdictions. They will try to be more vigilant and have a special responsibility to ensure they are not in breach of antitrust rules in markets that they could be dominant or any other market for that matter. However, it will reach a point they (complaints) will be too many to handle and the fines will be unsustainable hence forcing them to open up and become laissez-faire. Going forward, players in the digital marketing will be vigilant as the case against Google has turned attention to operations of not only search engine companies but internet technology companies in general.