Comparison, it has one of the hottest subjects on the web for years. Try to compare a holiday and you’ll find tons of comparison websites. Try to compare one loan to another one and you will experience the same.
With Bing becoming a ‘decision’ engine it was only a matter of time before Google would be entering the market of comparison sites. After all, isn’t a search engine already a kind of comparison website?
With the acquisition of UK price comparison site BeatThatQuote (for £37.7m) Google has made a next step into the comparison market. And the game is on now. Sites like Go Compare and Compare the Market, who are now the major players, gained a huge competitor overnight. And if things go as planned for Google, within months they will be a major player on the comparison area for both financial and travel products, not surprisingly enough two areas which has a lot of money going around. But Google is moving on thin ice here.
<See update halfway through the post>
In the US Google is already active on the comparison market with the service Comparison Ads, “an experimental service from Google that lets users easily search and compare offers from advertisers“. They have made more steps into that area with for example comparison ads for mortgage rates and comparing creditcards for example.
Off course the owners of BeatThatQuote.com are happy with the deal:
“We think this deal is a tremendous opportunity for our company to develop new and innovative options for personal finance in the UK.
Our team is excited about becoming a part of Google. We look forward to working with their engineers to create new tools making it easier for consumers to choose the right financial products. We think we can offer more transparency and better pricing information than existing online offerings.
We are confident that by combining BeatThatQuote.com’s expertise in UK financial products with Google’s technology, we’ll accelerate innovation in this field, benefiting consumers and the companies offering these products. We plan to keep working with our current partners and look forward to working with new ones, too.”
It makes sense for them to be happy, I however think that some others won’t be that happy: regulators and owners of other competitive comparison sites.
Google will run BeatThatQuote.com as a standalone brand but you can be sure that Google’s powers will be used here. The reach of the site will increase dramatically.
But herein lies exactly the point where Google should be careful. The comparison website BeatThatQuote isn’t the biggest one in the UK market, and with reason. There are many ‘sloppy’ things to be seen on the website.
I highly recommend reading Aaron Wall’s post on SEOBook where he strips apart BeatThatQuote. The site is doing all sorts of things wrong if you look at the Google guidelines. Where recently JC Penney was being penalized by Google, they could have just as well taken BeatThatQuote with them.
Aaron points out for example:
- The use of doorway pages and gateway sites
- Buying links that pass Pagerank
- Paid blog reviews
and more. See his post here.
UPDATE ON THIS: BigMouthMedia reports that Google might have penalized BeatThatQuote today. If that is true it is a remarkable move from Google, but a good one.
Google’s expansion drift is far from over. They still have the ITA Softeare deal which is being looked at by the US Justice Department. If that comes through they will be powerful in the travel comparison world also.
And on top of that we will be seeing a lot more acquisitions from Google in the near future. According to the Wall Street Journal Google is “going to continue to be aggressive.” They were told so by Google’s vice president of corporate development David Lawee.
Google getting into the comparison business makes a lot of people unhappy. Many comparison sites, especially those in the travel industry, have always feared Google’s interference. After all, if Google becomes your competitor, how will they handle your rankings?
Google believes that the price comparison market should be simplified. They are absolutely right there. Comparison sites, both in finance and travel as well as in other areas, are not always the best place to go. To be honest, one of the reasons I let my wife handle all the holiday arrangements is that I get totally frustrated by all the sites who give a small piece of information and all the sites I’m directed to when clicking links. Within minutes I will have dozens of screens and tabs open and get completely lost. So for that reason I would like to get Google or Bing involved, if they can make sense of all the clutter.
But there is another issue here off course. Google might become yet again a little bit too powerful. With all the areas Google is competing in now, it seems obvious that people will be raising questions when it comes to Google’s neutrality. They desperately need to make clear they are not favoring their own products, or if they are, make clear that they do. Just to keep away from discussion. And that will be a big challenge for the Googlers I think.
More on this story elsewhere: