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Google on Trial: Has all Credibility Been Lost?

by | Nov 6, 2023 | Blog

“There should not be one ounce of trust left that any advertiser has in Google Ads,” digital marketer Greg Finn famously said on the Marketing O’Clock podcast last month.

The drastic comment comes following Google going on trial for “allegedly using underhand tactics to ensure it stays the world’s leading search engine” – with allegations including that Google paid huge amounts of money to companies like Apple to make it the default search engine on products like the iPhone.

The 10-week-long trial, brought by the U.S. Justice Department, could bring significant changes to the future of the internet, and how marketers utilise Google. However, as Search Engine Land so rightly put, “It’s equally likely the trial will result in no changes and Google will be free to continue operating however it wants.”

So, how concerned should we be? Should we, as agencies, be boycotting Google? Is it time for Bing to become the major player in the ads world?

There are a lot of questions and opinions floating around the world of marketing at the moment. So, we asked some of our in-house experts – from all different specialisms – what their take on the current Google trial is, and how they think it could impact the future of digital.

A paid perspective

Ben Hawkes, our Senior Social Manager, said:

“The article raises some really interesting points about whether smaller businesses are being priced out of the market, or whether their money would be best spent elsewhere.

I think it would be naive to think that any channel is putting users’ best interests above their end-level profit – despite the fancy dressing-up they put on to explain their auction models.

What does this mean for users of Google? I think it’s unlikely the channel will go anywhere when it continues to be a major income stream for many businesses. I do however think it is an excellent time to start looking into other channels, such as Bing and Meta, and measuring the impact these have on your results.

At some point, it might be that the amount being spent on auctions is too much for businesses to justify, so if you have other channels performing well, you can send more money their way. If enough people do that, Google will have no choice but to be more competitive with their pricing.”

Our Senior Paid Manager, Ashley Lalfam, agrees – and cites the importance of using third-party tools in the process.

“The way we would find if an account has seen a hike would be by checking CPCs, CPLs, revenue and ROAS (YoY). This is another reason why we use third-party tools like Adthena to see more of the market on where your industry is rising.

On the point about small businesses, it always depends on what type of business you have. Some businesses have low cost-per-click (CPC), but others like the IT, law and energy industries have higher – because of the competition.

Regarding the idea that people should leave, the only way this would work is if there was another search engine which could take over – but no company can compete as Google’s technology is way too advanced.”

Image of a Google Ads dashboard overview showing click through rate & impressions data
In some sense, are we unfairly judging a business that is just that – a business? “I broadly agree with Ben Kruger. Google is a business, and ultimately they have the right to control their pricing, which is likely being impacted by the economic pressures that are affecting us all – as well as aggressive targets perhaps!” explains Anthony Klokkou, Sleeping Giant Media’s Managing Director.

“In a perfect world, of course they would be totally transparent, but sharing every decision and every detail with your customers is unlikely to be practical. That being said, my love for the historic auction model was born of the idea that it isn’t just the brand with the deepest pockets that wins. I’d like to see that continued, and ideally more support from Google for advertisers of all sizes on how to get the best outcome from the auction beyond the bid.”

The power of brand loyalty

Account Director, Tiffany Fowler, highlights that, while competitors may see this as a chance to move on their long-standing opponent, brand loyalty may block them in the long-run.

“When looking at the main objective of the trial – to decide whether Google uses deceitful, anti-competitive approaches to secure an outsized position in the search market – Microsoft and other competitors may use this as an opportunity to try and discredit Google, to increase their ability to step into the market. If it is successful, it will open opportunities from a marketing lens to test other avenues.
Although, I’d have an argument that it may not amount to too much – as an example, I believe Apple attempted to squelch subpoenas issued due to them being ‘unduly burdensome’ when reading a couple articles, notably one by The Drum. Although this failed, there may be some grounds for this considering the avenue was explored.”
“Users choose to use Google and I’m not sure that the sanctions will reduce this choice – it is a market leader and is highly innovative – therefore most of the competitors copy their algorithms and processes.
I think that with the size of Google, they as a byproduct are going to continue to hold this loyalty, especially if users don’t leave. Therefore, as established above, perhaps it might not shake up too much.

By Byron Sharp’s law of double jeopardy, higher penetration and in turn loyalty come with higher market share. The greater a brand’s penetration, the more heavy buyers it has; the more that consumers buy or use products or services from a category, the more those consumers will tend to return to the same brands.”

The world’s leading search engine

Close up image of the Google search bar

“Most businesses advertise to get in front of their customers, who primarily use Google to look for products and services – and that won’t change, regardless of the outcome of the trial,” explains Associate Operations Director, Holly Cooke.

“Google has the majority margin share, and has a captive audience of people who use it to find everything they may need – and therefore businesses who want to grow need to be on there.

Ecommerce clients who are selling products directly should look at alternative platforms to test, e.g. Amazon, who is growing in market share for product searches. However, not much is likely to change for lead-based clients, as they will still need to be where their customers are.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Associate Client Services Director, Justine Ruffhead:

“Regardless of any tactics that they might be deploying, Google is still the world’s leading search engine – and the first port of call for consumers. So if you’re a business wanting to get in front of the right people, Google Ads is – and will remain – a highly important and effective channel to consider as part of your marketing mix.

Consumers aren’t going to stop using Google because of how they operate commercially (consumers ultimately don’t care, but do care about getting the best information), so advertisers have to continue working smart in the space.”

As an agency – and speaking for all digital marketers – the end goal is almost always about getting brands in front of their audiences. And that means knowing where the audience hangs out, and making sure that the brand in question is present in the same space. As our Senior SEO Manager, Kathryn Bevan, explains, while testing may be required, that end goal doesn’t change:

“If Google do get sanctions or have to change the way they operate to allow more competition in the market off the back of the antitrust trial, there may be a need to adapt our approaches to factor in more rival ad platforms than we do currently. Ultimately our aim should always be to ensure that clients have a presence where their audience is.”

Will you be boycotting Google?

So, what’s your hot take? Will you be going cold turkey on all things Google-related? Or are you firmly in the camp of “nothing much will change”?

For now, as we so often have to do in the ever-changing world of digital, we’re keeping our eyes and ears open to what’s happening – and remaining ready to react, tweak and *cough* pivot *cough* where necessary in order to continue getting the best results for our clients. That’s what we’re here for, right?

Be sure to keep up with the latest digital marketing industry updates by following our blog. And, if you have any questions, our experts would love to hear from you.


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