You’ve probably heard a great deal of buzz about the conflict between Google Search in Australia and the Australian government recently. With uncertainty looming, we’ve received questions from multinational enterprise brands about what impact, if any, this might have on their business.
In this post, we’ll explore a bit of the background and see where Google Search vs. Australia stands today.
Facebook and Google Search in Australia vs. the News
On December 9th, 2020, the Australian Government made controversial world news by introducing a Bill to Parliament to address “the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms.”
Their News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code specifically targeted tech giants Facebook and Google to ensure news media businesses would be fairly remunerated for their content. The overarching idea was to force these companies to share royalties with news publishers, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia.
Before the legislation was made official, Facebook, stating that it represented a significant failure of understanding the relationship between Facebook and news organizations, opted to restrict Australians from sharing news on their sites. Google, likewise, claiming that the law would create “unmanageable financial and operational risk,” threatened to withdraw its search engine from Australia entirely.
Given that Google presently dominates this market, this has prompted a great deal of concern from companies who are worried about the potential ramifications of losing Google search and wondering what impact this could have on their overall search presence.
How likely is it that Google will make good on their threat?
In Australia, Google is synonymous with the internet. Consumers rely on Google search for finding local businesses, online shopping, school research, and more. So, there is no doubt that if they did decide to withdraw, it would be felt, especially by Australian businesses. Google accounts for over 51% of all online advertising.
While we haven’t seen Google withdraw entirely from a country in the past, they have opted to shut down some of their services. Most notably, in 2014, they closed Google News in Spain and removed Spanish publishers from the search engine when their Government passed a copyright law similar to the one just issued in Australia.
On the other hand, mere hours before issuing their ultimatum to the Australian Government, Google was busy signing an agreement with France promising to pay sums of money to news publishers in individual contracts for the use of their content online, which makes it all the more confusing for Google to consider pulling out of Australia.
Google provided a little clarity on the matter in a blog post. They explained that their vehement opposition to the Australian legislation lay in the requirement to pay for links and snippets in search, which would “break the fundamental principle of the web — that it should be free and easy to link to websites.”
They also highlight the issues surrounding “an unfair and unprecedented arbitration process” that considers only costs to the publishers and not the tremendous benefits they receive in gaining referral traffic and “discourages good faith negotiations.”
Finally, they expressed concerns about the algorithm clause, which would have them give news media businesses advanced notice of any algorithm changes that would deliberately impact them – which they claimed would offer them an unfair advantage over other web users. Anyone who has ever battled with SEO knows that Google likes to keep its algorithm information firmly under its hat.
Current state: Google’s deal with Australian publishers
The output of the back and forth was that the Australian Government agreed to amend the Code in line with legislation in France. This allowed Google to independently negotiate commercial deals directly with news publishers and make lump-sum payments rather than pay for clicks.
Since then, Google has made an abrupt about-face signing deals left and right with major and minor publishing companies. Their ‘Google News Showcase’, launched in February of this year, will feature stories from Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, among others.
In a subsequent open letter’ detailing a constructive path forward for Australian Journalism Managing Director of Google Australia, Mel Silva invited the country’s people to ‘Stay safe… and search on.’
Should businesses with locations in Australia be worried?
Our stance here at Rio SEO is that in light of agreeable progress being achieved on both sides, it’s extremely unlikely that Google will be removing any of their services, including search from Australia.
While details of individual deals are not being made public, it has been reported that Google is being both fair and generous. For this reason, we don’t anticipate any delays or hiccups in advertising with Google Australia. Our clients with an Australian presence can likely expect business as usual for organic, search, local SEO, and local listings.