Beware the dawn of the new Google

Higher Google Shopping costs, changes to domain names, Alphabet... why you should keep an eye on the search giant
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With higher Google Shopping costs for online sellers, changes to domain names and a new 'Alphabet' restructure, Google is changing fast - and we've got to keep an eye on it, warns PCR editor Dominic Sacco.

I can remember it like it was yesterday: I'm sitting in the Billericay School library back in 1998 and I'm being taught how to use the internet to find information online.

I remember preferring Yahoo! as a search engine at the time, because I thought the Google homepage looked so basic and its bright multi-coloured logo made it look like a boring child’s brand (oh the irony of a 13-year-old me thinking that).

I didn’t know it back then, but what I was experiencing in that lesson would forever change the way people search for information. More and more of my friends opted for Google over any other search engine (who remembers Ask Jeeves and AltaVista?), and soon it was the go-to website in that field. For me, encyclopaedias and software like Encarta felt redundant almost overnight.

Everyone knows what came next: global domination. Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Adsense, Analytics, Chrome, Android, Chromebooks, Glass, Google+, Nest… the list of innovations goes on and on.

Today Google is a rampaging juggernaut. It is the authority on SEO and how your website should be built, has restrictions on what you can publish on videos uploaded to YouTube, and wants to be with you no matter which device you use (don’t get me started on the complications I had trying to keep my work laptop and my home PC separate).

At the click of a finger Google can prevent a professional YouTuber from making a living through its ad share scheme, by changing a small part of its YouTube or AdSense policy, it decides the top news stories appearing in search – and can swiftly shut down your website. It can even remove events from history.

Hey, it’s not too much of a problem. I can live with this. What Google provides is a collection of technological solutions that have made our lives easier. I’m not sure anyone could deny that.

But the beast is changing.

THE NEW GOOGLE

Google is restructuring into a ‘collection of companies’ known as Alphabet, splitting its search and ad business. Don’t overlook this announcement – it’s huge news. On the surface it marks Google’s huge ambitions to become more than a technology company. In reality it could mean Google has a much bigger handle on our lives than it does already.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d like to think I’m not one of those scaremongers or paranoid overthinkers who believe every company is out to get them. But I think what Google has announced is important to consider as it could drastically affect the way businesses operate in the future.

Google CEO Larry Page said in the blog post announcement: “What is Alphabet? Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main Internet products contained in Alphabet instead.

“What do we mean by far afield? Good examples are our health efforts: Life Sciences (that works on the glucose-sensing contact lens), and Calico (focused on longevity).

“Alphabet will also include our X lab, which incubates new efforts like Wing, our drone delivery effort. We are also stoked about growing our investment arms, Ventures and Capital, as part of this new structure.”

So Google is branching out – and the sky is the limit for the tech giant. It has a market cap of almost $500 billion meaning it can invest in pretty much anything it bloody well likes. By making Google a single part of Alphabet, who knows what the future may hold for the rest of Alphabet – and for us?

AS EASY AS ABC

There are other seemingly smaller changes that should not be overlooked. The web address for Alphabet’s new website is abc.xyz. Google has the power to make generic top-level domains (gTLD) like this more prominent or search-friendly than usual web domains (the .coms, .co.uks and .bizs for example). We’ve already seen some unique ones emerge in recent years like .london for example.

The Register reports that Larry Page previously wanted Google to go big on new dot-word domain names, but was held back by those who didn’t want to invest money in them. This new abc.xyz move could herald a new era of different domain names – and change how businesses operate online. It’s something to consider and keep an eye on in the near future.

GOOGLE SHOPPING PRICE RISE

The other noteworthy piece of Google news this week that will no doubt affect PC retailers and brands that sell goods online is the rise of Google Shopping costs.

66 per cent believe the costs of Google Shopping are rising for their business, according to a Koozai survey of 1,000 UK SMEs.

Of these, 37 per cent say costs had increased between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

Google Shopping lets etailers and other online stores list their products for sale in the ‘Shopping’ tab on the Google website, allowing customers to compare prices and etailers.

There's also a new 'Buy New' button being implemented into Google Shopping over the next few weeks, with 42 per cent of respondents saying this would hinder sales.

However, 62 per cent of businesses did say Google Shopping provides a good return on investment overall.

There’s nothing to stop Google raising the price of its Shopping fees again in the future, of course. 

What’s more worrying is what I learnt from an off the record chat I had with a close industry contact just the other week. My source told me that they were selling a particular PC product online a few years ago at a lower cost compared to other etailers, on the day said product launched into the market.

The manufacturer of the product had told them their site would probably be ‘hacked’ by a rival etailer because of the low price. Sure enough, at around midday, their site went down due to a virus. Google spotted this, and seeing it as a potentially dangerous site for its users, pushed the site that was selling the cheap product down its search listings – and off of Google Shopping entirely.

Whether true or not, there are dubious ways of making Google clamp down on users – and businesses – unwittingly. Placing a copyright takedown claim on a YouTube video can instantly remove the video from the internet. I have seen this happen first-hand to some of the PC gaming channels I view online, who have criticised a game or product, only for the developer or brand owner to shut their video down because they didn’t like what was said.

Google does say that ‘misuse of this process may result in the suspension of your account or other legal consequences’, but it still goes on.

Larry Page originally wrote in Google’s original founders letter 11 years ago: “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”

The fact is, the decisions Google makes today have a bigger impact on other businesses than ever before, meaning you need to be even more aware of what they’re doing. They’re moving extremely fast, leaving potentially big changes in their wake. Google is not a conventional company – and because of this, your company can't afford to be one either.

For these reasons, we’ve got to watch them. 

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