What Does the Google Anti-trust Trial Mean in Marketing

header image of outside a courtroom with a sign to the side that says United States vs Google

What is Happening

Right now, one of the biggest trials of this century is going on and it has nothing to do with Trump. The largest antitrust trial of the century has reached the midway point and I’m talking about the United States v. Google, LLC. Haven’t heard about it? You aren’t alone.

Considering the implications of this trial, it is one of the most under publicized trials going on currently. What started as multiple trials across the country was united into a single trial. The presiding judge (appointed during the Obama era) is one of the youngest federal judges in the country and has decided to grant the motion that closes the court room doors to the public.

Google claims this is necessary to maintain proprietary secrets. But it has led to nothing but frustration in the journalism community. In fact, publishers like The Wall Street Journal and Verge are so upset by it that they have filed motions with the court to open the doors.

They say that there should be no delay or redaction of documents and testimony presented to the court despite Googles claims that the information presented could damage their business if leaked to the public. But that is kind of the whole point of the trial.

The government has made claims that Google has been participating in unfair business practices for nearly 2 decades that have not only made it nearly impossible for new business to break into their market but have directly damaged their competitors with these same practices.

What am I talking about you might be wondering, default search engines and AD space. That’s right, the government is claiming that because Google is the default to nearly everything, they are being unfair to their competitors. So, you might be wondering how that could be unfair.

Well, Google is investing over $10 billion a year to outbid other platforms to maintain this “monopoly” in the industry. I mean, think about every device you have bought in the last decade. Think about every time you boot up a new computer or Android phone, who is the default search engine, mail provider, map provider, etc.? That is because Google has been paying for the privilege of being the first thing you see.

While that might not seem like a big deal, I mean, it sounds like good marketing strategy to me, who can legitimately compete with them. When you give it some thought, it becomes clear that only Apple can. And the government has had enough.

They claim that Google is hurting the tech world with these practices. They have destroyed the “fairness” of the market. And they aren’t wrong. 20 years ago, businesses like AOL, Yahoo, and Ask.com where everywhere alongside Google. But where are they now?

Googles “deals” with tech companies are effectively locking up over 50% of the search volume of the world, more in the US. And nearly every major news outlet is talking about the trial in some capacity. But they aren’t talking about what it could mean for you. Sure, the headlines read “What this could mean for your searches”, but what does it mean for marketers and small business? I haven’t seen anyone address how this will affect the marketing world “if” they lose.

What Could Happen

Now Google might seem like a god in the tech industry, only rivaled by Apple, but they are not. What would it mean for us little guys if the tech giant loses this landmark trial? Well, it depends. What it means differs dramatically for the average consumer vs marketing agencies vs small businesses.

For the average user, it won’t mean a lot at the end of the day. Google may not come preinstalled as the default on many devices. Their devices may be slightly more expensive to compensate for the loss in revenue stream. The way ads are presented in search engines might change a little. But let’s be real, most consumers have become ad blind anyway thanks to Googles practices. Most people straight out ignore text-based ads and even graphic ads unless they are forced to look at them to continue scrolling or watching.

Small businesses are the ones that are going to see the difference and it’s going to be to the pocketbook. Now, right now, most small business’ pay someone to run their advertising or they don’t run it at all because they see it as too expensive. They aren’t wrong about those price tags, by the way.

To show up on the search terms that most effect their businesses can cost them as little as 10 cents per click or as much as $50 per click, and by that, I mean, every time someone clicks on their ads, they have to pay for it. It’s so expensive because Google sets those prices. Sure, you can pay other search engines to run ads for you. But why would you?

Google dominates in the search engine field. They control such a high percentage of the number of searches every single day that most small businesses only run Ads with them or with someone like Facebook. If Google loses this case, over time, those numbers will shift. Logically, prices will go down because Google will have to begin fighting for those searches all over again.

Other companies will be able to edge in on those results and offer cheaper per click pricing. Essentially, they will be able to afford to undercut Google and pull their clients away for the first time in well over a decade. After all, that’s how Google did it in the first place. They were so big they could undercut the competition and once the competition was gone, they raised the prices to where they wanted them.

This will mean that we will see small business spread out their efforts over multiple search engines again and their Ad spends (how much they budget per month to spend on this per click advertising) will be able to go down. They will be able to advertise on multiple engines for less overall. This will increase visibility for countless companies. And that’s good for the free market.

What That Means for Marketing

We will also see a shift in how marketing is done. Right now, many agencies push Google Ads or more rarely Bing. This has made sense because why would you tell your clients to spend money on a platform to advertise where almost no one would see their ads?

You wouldn’t. Word would get around quite quickly that you are just wasting your clients time and money and not getting the results that they need. It would be devastating and all for trying to spread the love.

Moving forward, should Google lose their case, you will begin to see companies specialize. “Hi, I am a digital marketer that specializes in Google Ads/ Bing Ads/ Yahoo Ads/ Baidu Ads” and so on and so forth.

Most will still offer the same social media plans, but Search Engine Optimization and Ad space will change radically. You might be surprised to know that most agencies are currently optimizing websites for what Google wants. And that also makes sense. Because of the “monopoly” Google receives the most day to day traffic. “Hi Google, search for xyz near me” and bam a string of sites pop up.

Moving forward this could be very different. You see, each search engine uses a different algorithm to determine what to look for on your website. Now, the differences between the engines might be slight because they are all looking for similar things. But the way they look is different. The price for web design could very well skyrocket.

The need for additional SEO factors, additional site uploads to the business sections of those engines, and the additional time it takes to implement those changes would naturally raise the price. But it will be worth it. You would be able to be found on virtually any search engine and rank at roughly the same place on your search terms across them.

But Ads, oh that is where the main changes are going to come. Marketers will be able to offer Ads packages at much reduced cost or they will keep their prices the same but offer engine bundles. It is an exciting time to be a marketer and there will be so much change in the industry.

What Others are Saying

Some news outlets are keeping quiet about what’s going on and others are crowing like the apocalypse is coming. They don’t really know what is going to happen and everything is speculative at this point.

Many are talking about the judge. As one of the youngest federal judges, Judge Amit Mehata is more likely to be familiar with Google in the modern world than his counterparts. Be that as it may, it is entirely too early to actually speculate on what his decision will be.

It is a 10-week trial that has just hit the halfway point. We still have over a month before the Judge begins deliberating on his decision. Yet, one has to wonder what is going through his mind as evidence is presented. He has chosen up till now to keep the public largely in the dark as to the inner workings of the trial that began on September 12th and will continue till Mid November.

Journalists are wondering what witness from places like Verizon, Samsung, and Google itself are testifying about behind those locked doors. Other experts have put in their two cents saying that the fairest outcome would be an across-the-board ban on all default agreements between two companies.

Google executive James Kolotourus, who was responsible for many of the contracts that give Google is advantages has already testified to the stringency with which Google monitors and enforces those deals.

Google executive Adam Juda has even taken the stand to testify on how Google awards ad space after the conclusion of its auctions, talking about the Long-Term Value or LTV of each company and that no one is informed of this score that is so important to the pricing scheme that Google uses for Ads.

Even Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has testified to the almost hypnotic hold that it has on users, “you get up in the morning, you brush your teeth, and then you search on Google.” He claimed that the only way to change this was by having the ability to change the preset default search engine on devices.

But not all witness are angry about the supposed monopoly. Apple executive Eddy Cue has said that they have “embraced” Google as the preferred Search engine. He claims that they provide the best user experience for customers overall. Although there is now speculation that if Apple is blocked by a ban that they may use their expansive reach to develop their own search technology.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, the trial is being closely watched by everyone from tech enthusiast to regulators, lawmakers to lobbyists and so many more that I would have to write another article just to name them all.

A loss in this trial could radically change the way that Google is currently structured and set precedent for lawmakers to begin taking on other tech giants that have seemed untouchable since the inception of modern technology.

All results are probably years away from reality even if the ripples are beginning to be felt long before the ruling, which is not expected till the spring. That decision could result in a second trial to figure out how to move forward with a solution and on and on and on followed by appeal after appeal.

I look forward to the prosecution wrapping its case soon and can’t wait to see what Google has to say in its own defense. You never know, at the end of the day they could come out of this completely unscathed.