Google FTC Settlement – All Bark, No Bite

The long awaited Google-FTC decision came out today and it was all bark, no bite.  Google must only make a few changes and is cleared of the biggest allegations which were that it manipulated the search results.  The FTC concluded that  "changes made to Google's search algorithms ... could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google's product and the experience of its users."  The WSJ quoted the dissenting FTC commissioner saying that 'after promising an elephant more than a year ago, the Commission instead has brought forth a couple of mice.'

What changes were made?

Google will remove restrictions hampering advertisers’ management of their ad campaigns across competing ad platforms.

Bing Desktop Editor and other platforms may have an easier time importing AdWords data because AdWords should not be restricting API usage.  This could make it easier for beginner advertisers with less time to manage Bing and third tier engines to scale their advertising past Google.  Increased competition on other third tier engines could raise CPC's on Bing, LookSmart, 7Search, etc which are currently being utilized primarily by agencies for clients with larger budgets seeking additional exposure.

This is good for Bing and third tier engines.  This is good for time restricted advertisers who can now more easily compete on those engines.  As my colleague Aaron pointed out, this is good news for SEOMoz.

Google will refrain from misappropriating online content from so-called “vertical” websites that focus on specific categories such as shopping or travel for use in its own vertical offerings.

Vertical search engines allow searchers to see results around one topic.  Topics could be news, shopping, etc.  Danny Sullivan does a good job explaining vertical search in detail.  It's unclear how this will actually play out, but the idea is that Google will show more results for services other than its own within their own vertical results.

Google Shopping is probably the biggest vertical.  Shopping results (as Bing pointed out with their Scroogled campaign) are all paid ads.  I'm not sure how this is going to play out unless that changes and shopping results are organic again.  Google is favoring merchants who pay the most in AdWords, not its own results.  That's no different than the AdWords platform where advertisers bid for placement and the highest bidder (quality score aside) show in the higher placements.   However, it'll be good to see Google promoting itself less and promoting others more in other verticals.

This settlement just happened today; we'll see how this pans out.  Drop us a line if you'd like to discuss more.

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