Google’s controversial Compare service started winding down yesterday, and will shut off completely on 23 March.
Google Compare allows searchers to get quotes for some financial products – mortgages, credit cards, car and travel insurance – directly from search results, without the need to click on a comparison website. This led to numerous complaints from the aggregators including MoneySupermarket and TripAdvisor and a Statement of Objections against Google from the EU.
Antitrust issues are unlikely to go away since this doesn’t affect similar products such as the flights booking engine, but the comparison sites are clearly thrilled. Chris Morling, MD of money.co.uk, pointed out to me that "we have a situation where Google is competing directly with comparison sites spending millions on Google AdWords each year".
Since Google now shows four ads on "highly commercial queries" instead of three, the search engine clearly believes that the fourth listing will generate more revenue from one of the price comparison websites than it has done from searchers using its own comparison tools.
Morling told me that “developing a financial comparison service along with continual innovation takes time, resources and expertise". He added: "Consumers are unlikely to lose out because those sites dedicated to financial comparison are better placed to provide added value such as supporting information and richer functionality."
Google Compare is obviously a more significant drain on resources than an extension of its ad listings – and the search engine is unlikely to argue that it has the expertise in house to offer truly worthwhile financial advice.
Ironically it’s possible to both fully research and purchase a financial product such as car insurance without leaving a financial comparison website, but the same can’t be said for Google, which used its search results real estate in the same way as an advertiser, without being able to surface any real insight in the organic results.
In a letter to its partners, Google said "despite people turning to Google for financial services information, the Google Compare service itself hasn’t delivered the success we hoped for…after a lot of careful consideration, we’ve decided that focusing more intently on AdWords and future innovations will enable us to provide fresh, comprehensive answers to Google users".
Compare was far from comprehensive which meant that searchers still needed to visit other websites to get hold of information that would help them to decide on a product. Due to the aggregators leading the content marketing charge, this meant that searchers almost unanimously arrived at one or several of them when purchasing a financial product.
Following the launch of the antitrust investigation, I pointed out on The Drum that by Google’s own standards the prominent position in search results was hardly making full use of its capabilities. If it were genuinely interested in selling financial products Google knows it would have to invest heavily in content or it wouldn’t appear in search listings; currently google.co.uk/compare/ usually appears on the fifth page in a search for "credit cards", and at the bottom of page two in a search for "car insurance", despite the enormous quantity of links pointing to the site. Compare was effectively a confusing mess of rates and acronyms, with little else to add.
In the wake of the antitrust case I pointed out that Google would want to prove its "unfair" comparison shopping engine was more engaging than brands like MoneySupermarket and TripAdvisor lodging complaints against it. Perhaps we can take this backward step as an indication that this really wasn’t the case.
Stephen Kenwright is director of search for Branded3