Google Investigated Over Allegations of Abusing Its Dominant Position

When the name of your company has become a verb listed in dictionaries (“to google”), it is fair to say that you made it in the world.

And Google deserves its success. As a search engine, there is no doubt that it is very well put together. It returns relevant results, it has been evolving with society and technology and it favours quality content. It is used in a phenomenal 90% of all world searches, and that wouldn’t have happened if it was just an “average” application.

But with great power comes a) great responsibility, according to Spiderman; b) the even greater temptation to abuse your dominant position. And this is exactly what Google is being investigated for.

Mind you, this is not the first time Google has come under scrutiny from various governments over similar allegations, but breach of competition laws (called antitrust in the US) is difficult to prove and, until now, no charges have been brought against Google, for lack of compelling evidence.

This time, they seem to be in more trouble though. After receiving complaints from smaller businesses as well as giants like Microsoft, TripAdvisor or Streetmap, the European Commission had enough material to bring charges against the search engine multinational for skewing results to bring its own shopping companies at the top of the much-coveted first page – whether they were relevant or not to the search. The Competition division of the EU is also opening an investigation into Google’s Android system, the operating system for about 80% of smartphones around the world on similar grounds.

Why is Google’s alleged practice a problem? People decide to purchase their services willingly after all, don’t they? Well, it depends how you like your market.

If you like it “free”, you will argue that governments shouldn’t interfere with offer and demand and that the best companies will naturally emerge from the fight, and that, left to its own devices, the market will nurture competition, which is in the consumers’ best interest. The other school of thought is that, without regulation, large companies will come on top, simply because they have more resources, and create a situation of quasi monopoly over time. With competitors out of the way, they could then do pretty much whatever they want and consumers would suddenly find themselves with very little choice.

Google has 10 weeks to address the charges. It faces a potential fine of up to 10% of its annual turnover – US$6bn (NZ$5.2bn) – which would surely hurt, but it may also have far-reaching consequences, as it would set a precedent and could impact on other investigations Google is under, like in India and Russia.

Now, that it is all very interesting, but how does it affect other companies, and what can you do to mitigate Google’s alleged domination?

Well, obviously, it is hard enough as it is to make it to the first page of search results, but if Goggle keeps half of the “spots” for itself, what are you to do?

The answer will very much depend on your type of business – i.e. do you sell online, are you retail oriented or B2B? –but the good news is that you can transform this threat into an opportunity by riding the wave of Google’s name.

Google favours its own products? Well, make sure that you are part of it. For example, use YouTube, owned by Google, to post your own videos (relevant to your services and products of course), peppered with the right keywords. Videos are a particularly effective way of engaging with your audience in any case, especially in a retail context so it is definitely worth considering.

You will, of course, know that social media are a vital part of your marketing plan, but obviously Google wouldn’t promote the likes of Facebook or Twitter against its owns, so make sure that your business has a Google+ account. A platform still under-utilised by businesses, it has nevertheless climbed the ranks quickly, overtaking Twitter in 2013 and becoming the second largest networking tool after Facebook. So, in addition to the fact that it is a Google product, you would do well to get to grip with everything the site has to offer.

And of course, there is Adwords, the ultra-sophisticated advertising programme created by Google, which allows you to target specific keywords and bid on them to be ranked higher. Although it can, in theory, level the playing field and give small companies the same exposure as multi-million corporations because you can manage your campaigns by yourself, we can only recommend caution if you are considering doing so. It may well be easy to set up a plan, but getting a decent return on your investment requires a professional.

Although it will be some time before the European Commission’s verdict is known, Google’s dominant position can play to your advantage, so grab the opportunity with both hands while you can.

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