Chris Lockwood
January 29, 2021

Will Google Withdraw Search from Australia?

Over months of industry negotiations, the Australian government has been attempting to address the unequal bargaining power between big tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, and news publishers. The government released details of their proposed news media bargaining code in December 2020, which will require Google and Facebook to pay particular news publishers for their content, as well as sharing updates about upcoming changes in their algorithm. 

Both of these changes would set entirely new precedents as to how Google and Facebook operate. As a result, Google announced last week that the code is unworkable and would “break” Google Search and its business in Australia. Local Managing Director, Mel Silva spoke at a senate hearing and stated that, “If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”

Google has since started showing Search users in Australia a new-pop up to reiterate this message with the public.

Facebook has also reaffirmed its move to block Australian users from posting or sharing news links should the new bill be passed in its current form.

What would the search landscape look like without Google?

The removal of Google’s search engine is an extremely daunting prospect for many Australian businesses. In particular, it is a major threat for those who have built their digital strategy around the Google ecosystem and have a heavy reliance on search traffic and visibility to generate revenue. Pure play online retailers, in particular, will experience a substantial loss of revenue in the short term.

Although there are a lot of alternatives to Google, with the most obvious being Bing, none have the same sophistication to parallel the search engine giant. There are rumours of a potential search engine being developed by Apple, but it is unlikely that this would be rushed to market should Google remove itself from Australia. Google currently has a whopping 94.37% market share and accounts for $4.3 billion in annual advertising budget, showing the nation’s reliance on its technology.

Australia’s Search Engine Market:

  • Google: 94.37%
  • Bing: 3.74%
  • Yahoo: 0.79%
  • DuckDuckGo: 0.73%
  • Ecosia: 0.20%
  • Other: 0.17%

Luckily, Australian businesses have become old hats at adapting after a year of bushfires and COVID. I also anticipate that the general public will become accustomed with other search engines quickly and things will stabilise. However, the loss of Google search would send ripples across the entire country and the potential impact of this threat is yet to be fully understood or appreciated.

Australians would simply need to find an alternative search engine.

Considering Bing’s wide brand awareness and positioning, I anticipate that Bing will pick up a large portion of organic search traffic in the short term. However, DuckDuckGo, offers unprecedented privacy to its users and Ecosia, focuses on sustainability and the future, making them both strong contenders in a potentially fragmented market. 

Established businesses will experience a lot of fluctuations in search visibility on these new platforms. Although all of these search engines follow very similar principles to Google, they have subtle differences. For example, Bing puts a lot more emphasis on social signals and onsite imagery and video content. So, if a business that has been optimising heavily towards Google search, it could experience varied rankings in Bing.

Bing ads are also in a prime position to capitalise on the potential loss of Google Ads in the market. Bing ads currently power the advertising capabilities for all other major players, such as DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, and Ecosia. Therefore, if a business is already running paid ads through the Bing ads platform, they can ensure they are showing across these other platforms by simply enabling search partners. 

Is Google prepared to let other platforms gain market share?

I personally believe the full removal of the Google search platform is unlikely. It would open the doors for their competitors to grow and learn as their market share and user base expands. If Google was to withdraw from Australia, it’s likely that the Australian version would be decommissioned and replaced with the US version. This would mean that Australian websites would be competing with US websites, which is a less than ideal scenario for local businesses and publishers.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is to ensure we are prepared for all outcomes and Alpha Digital is currently working with its clients to transfer and adapt their search strategy to new platforms should Google search be removed from Australia. The news media bargaining code isn’t the only major change to the media landscape. Apple’s iOS14 privacy update is also going to have a major impact on app advertisers, and the rapidly changing ecosystem highlights the importance of building diversity and agility into your marketing strategy.

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