Google's Got A Search Monopoly -- So What Now?

Recent admissions from a Google advertising executive about ad price inflation and auction manipulations caught lots of advertisers off guard.

But if you know how monopolies work, you saw this coming.

Like every ad platform, Google wants to increase the lifetime value of its customers, which sometimes means increasing prices. And as with any monopoly, which Google has in search (and which Amazon and especially Apple are approaching in ecommerce and mobile, respectively), Google has been able to steadily adjust its product to serve its interest instead of its customers’ interest.

This is what monopolies do, and what the government is supposed to regulate -- which isn’t happening anytime soon.

The smart thing for brand marketers to do is cast an analytical, skeptical eye on Google’s place in their advertising portfolio. That means:

-- establishing an analytics source outside Meta and Google’s walled gardens

-- assessing your campaign and channel mix



--  looking for places to cut budget from -- or add nuance to -- Google’s Performance Max campaigns, which have stripped almost all advertising controls

Let’s look at each step in detail.

Establish your own source of truth. The goal of an advertising analytics set-up should be to understand the true impact of your campaign. Relying on in-platform metrics, whether they’re from Google or competitors, is a risky proposition that doesn’t factor in advanced analysis like incrementality or marginal return (and the platforms won’t agree on which engagement should get credit for each conversion if you’re relying on multitouch attribution).

To solve this, start by making sure your CRM data is as clean and well-structured as possible. From there, larger accounts with sufficient martech budget can stand up a Triple Whale or Adobe Analytics or another high-powered third-party analytics platform. If that’s cost-prohibitive, use GA4 (yes, a Google property) and calibrate it by running lift tests, matched market tests, etc. to understand the value of your campaigns.

Examine your channel and campaign mix. If you have enough CRM data, you can invest in media mix modeling to understand where to invest your next marketing dollar.

Many marketers think of MMM as a means to find new channels. It can also show the benefits of moving away from the bottom of the funnel (where Google’s search dominates) and into brand awareness campaigns on discovery-friendly channels, the viability of which you can verify through native platform tools like Meta’s brand lift studies.

Get prescriptive with Performance Max. Performance Max, which now dominates Google ecommerce campaigns, has stripped advertisers of targeting and placement controls to focus on machine learning.

Machine learning is powerful and able to discover new growth pockets that you wouldn’t otherwise. But remember that if you give an ad platform full control, they will manipulate things in their favor. Where you’re not sure of placements or incremental performance, you should consider cutting budget – and feed your CRM data into Google’s algorithm to train it to find the right users, not just cheap users most likely to take the minimum conversion action required.

Experienced advertisers will know how to work the gray area. Control what you can, cut where it makes sense, and structure your tests to show what’s actually moving the needle.

Wrapping up

Don’t wait for the government to regulate Google’s monopoly. Follow the above steps to assess and minimize your dependence on the Google machine.

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