July 20th, 2018

This week saw Google receive a record fine of or €4.34 billion, or $5 billion, from the EU commission due to violation of anti-trust (*read ‘monopoly’) laws. Headed up by the tenacious EU Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, this follows a fine last year of €2.42 billion due to prioritisation of Google Shopping. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of money. With a reported $103 billion in cash reserves on the face of it, Google’s parent company Alphabet can afford the fines. However, it does bring up some interesting speculation and pseudo confirmation of strategy.

Google fined for violation of EU Anti-Trust laws

To set the scene, Google were fined due to the tactics they employed to have manufacturers pre-install and bundle together Google Search on mobile phones that used Android. There are multiple cases brought against the search giant, including payments made to manufacturers and networks to utilise unforked versions of Android as well as the aforementioned bundling. It is not the first time this has occurred, with the EU commission previously imposing a 561 million euro fine on Microsoft for bundling their internet explorer with Windows.

At first glance it appears that the EU commission are targeting some of the biggest companies in the world to make a point. However, it makes sense. These companies have astronomical user figures and as such, targeting them will have the highest impact for the consumer. From our perspective, that is what all the fuss is about. Google are abusing their power over networks and manufacturers to prevent competition and at least in the initial purchase of a phone, reduce choice for the consumer. The EU Commission are attempting to protect consumer choice and competition, something that these global organisations clearly (and somewhat understandably) want to limit.

Google’s focus on mobile search

So how does this relate to SEO? We’re not lawyers. Nor are we experts in supplier contracts and the EU laws surrounding anti-trust. What it does though is re-affirm Google’s focus on mobile.

This year has seen Google transition to their mobile-first index and announce that mobile load speed is a ranking factor. This fine has brought to the public eye that Google are supposedly willing (you would imagine that they were aware of transgressions) to break EU law to stamp their dominance of the search market, specifically on mobile devices. One might think that with their stranglehold on the global search market that this was an unnecessary abuse of influence which may be the case, but what it does show is that Google take the adoption of their search engine on mobile very seriously indeed. Even if they were unaware of a breach of law, it is clear that they wanted to take steps to ensure that mobile users were utilising Google search over any other search engine.

It makes sense. It really does. Mobile search accounts for a larger portion of searches than on desktop and the whole market appears to be in agreement that mobile is the future, so why wouldn’t Google look to continue their dominance in this area? History shows that while businesses can remain dominant for years, it only takes a competitor to appear that delivers a superior product (coupled with potential brand fatigue) for that dominance to vanish quickly. Yes, a business would need a huge amount of money to create what Google have as a search engine but it is not past the realms of possibility, especially as users transition more and more to a mobile platform. We don’t necessarily see this having a significant impact on users’ adoption of Google Search on mobile, but it is interesting to see Google’s tactics in the area nonetheless.

If you are to take anything away from this as an SEO, it should demonstrate Google’s focus on mobile search and the steps they are willing to take to keep Google search as the most popular search engine for mobile.

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