Analysis of search data shows Google Shopping gained 300% visibility in recent years even as competitor visibility declined. EU’s case may not be clear-cut
London, U.K., September 28, 2017 ‒ With Google now agreeing to concede to the EU’s antitrust action by creating a standalone unit for its shopping services and allowing rivals to bid for ads shown there, a new study examines whether Google Shopping did in fact gain an illegal advantage over other price comparison sites. And does the search company have a legitimate case in appealing the EU decision?
The research by Searchmetrics reveals that the appearance of Google Shopping ad units in the search results increased by over 300% on desktop and mobile in the UK, Germany and France in recent years. At the same time, the average search visibility* of other large online comparison sites** dropped by over 50% on desktop and nearly 30% on mobile.
While the data lends support to the European Commission’s claim that Google did unfairly favour its own search results over competitors’, it’s not enough of a smoking gun to back up all the EU’s charges and the proposed fine, said Marcus Tober, Searchmetrics founder and CTO.
“Whilst the European Commission’s statements are quite clear-cut and one-sided, our data indicates that the true picture is probably much more diverse. The search performance of both Google Shopping and its competitors vary over time, from country to country and for individual comparison websites ‒ and that doesn’t quite fit with Google making a consistent, targeted effort to penalize comparison shopping services across the region.”
Marcus Tober, Searchmetrics founder and CTO
Within the hotly contested online comparison-shopping business, understanding why some companies are winning and others losing is not clear-cut, he said.
“There are many factors involved that could be impacting the comparison sites’ search visibility. For example, we found some evidence to suggest, as Google has claimed in its defence, that some of the loss of search performance for the comparison sites could be connected to the growing popularity of Amazon and eBay. Though here again, we see different results in each country and it’s probably not as straightforward as Google wants us to believe either,” Tober said.
Given the scale of the multi-billion Euro fine that Google faces – and the potentially wider implications for other sectors, the independent report released today by Searchmetrics takes a critical look at the European Commission’s main statements, and analyses to what extent they are supported by Searchmetrics’ data. With the largest historical database of Google search results in the industry, the company is uniquely positioned to provide an expert view.
Five important findings from the analysis are summarized underneath.
1) Google saw a considerable, yet uneven rise in Google Shopping appearances in desktop searches
Between March 2013 and June 2017, the proportion of desktop search results for which at least one Google Shopping Unit (also known as Google Product Listing Ads) appears has increased by +327% overall in the three countries, France, Germany and UK. There was a +386% rise in Germany, +382% in the UK and +164% in France. This is based on a recurring analysis of Shopping Units displayed for about 1 million search terms (keywords) per country that Searchmetrics tracks per week.
However, while the overall trend shows a rise in Google Shopping Units over the period, growth is by no means steady; it is characterized by a significant increase in Q1 2014 (when Google introduced a paid only shopping service) and a significant decrease in Q2 of 2016. In between, the percentage of keywords with a Google Shopping Unit was relatively stable.
2) An overall fall in Desktop Search visibility for Google’s competitors
An analysis of 10 large competitor online comparison sites in each of the three countries found their combined Google search visibility* (on desktops) has dropped by 58% overall between March 2013 and June 2017. In France, the leading comparison sites have experienced a visibility drop of 79%; in Germany 50%; and in the UK, 30%.
3) Comparison sites more likely to appear on page 4 or 5 where searchers seldom look
Around half of all appearances of the large comparison sites studied in Germany and France are on page 4 and 5 of Google (desktop results), where searchers are less inclined to look. In the UK, it is 42.3%. Just 6.6% in France, 11.1% in Germany and 16.9% in the UK are on page 1.
In contrast, Google Shopping ads generally appear on the first page – either above or at the side of the organic search results (where research suggests 92% of search traffic comes from).
However, since January 2015, the analysis suggests the percentage of comparison sites ranking on pages 1, 2 and 3 has increased slightly, while those ranking on pages 4 and 5 has fallen.
4) Amazon and eBay could have contributed to comparison sites’ drop
One of Google’s defenses is that the comparison sites’ decline in search results is down due to the popularity of platforms such as Amazon and eBay, not because of any unfair advantage to Google Shopping. Searchmetrics’ analysis of the search results during 2013 to 2017 revealed the following:
In France, Amazon.fr and ebay.fr’s combined visibility in search results increased while the comparison sites’ visibility fell, providing support for Google’s defence.
In Germany, Amazon.de and eBay.de’s combined visibility remained more stable than that of the German comparison sites. However, in 2013 and first half of 2014 the two online marketplaces did display visibility gains while the comparison sites’ visibility declined.
In the UK, there appeared to be no recognisable relationship between the combined visibility of Amazon.co.uk and eBay.co.uk and that of the comparison services.
5) Mobile appearances of Google Shopping increased while combined visibility of competitors fell
Searchmetrics analysis of Google’s mobile search results from Feb 2015 to Jun 2017 reveals that the number of keywords for which there was at least one Google shopping ad unit increased by +307% for the three countries combined.
In the same period, the mobile visibility of Google Shopping’s competitors in the three markets shows an aggregated 28% drop – however that consists of slight increases in visibility in France and UK (+16% and +11% respectively), and a larger 33% visibility fall in Germany.
*How desktop and mobile search visibility is measured in the analysis
The measure of search visibility used in the analysis is Searchmetrics’ SEO Visibility score, an index score which quantifies how prominently a website appears in search results. It is based on the desktop and mobile organic rankings of the keywords that Searchmetrics tracks in each country every week. The calculation for the SEO Visibility score is based on:
- The number of times a domain appears in the search engine results pages (SERPs) across the keyword set
- Its prominence within those SERPs (a higher ranking equates to a higher visibility score)
- The competitiveness of the keyword (higher search volumes equate to a higher visibility score)
**The online comparison sites that were included within the analysis are:
UK: mysupermarket.co.uk, pricerunner.co.uk, ciao.co.uk, kelkoo.co.uk, idealo.co.uk, megashopbot.com, bizrate.co.uk, pricechecker.co.uk, shopzilla.co.uk, pricegrabber.co.uk
France: leguide.com, ciao.fr, idealo.fr, touslesprix.com, kelkoo.fr, shopping.com, i-comparateur.com, achetezfacile.com, nextag.fr, webmarchand.com
Germany: idealo.de, billiger.de, ciao.de, dooyoo.de, preissuchmaschine.de, guenstiger.de, preis.de, geizkragen.de, nextag.de, twenga.de