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Is Searching the Internet a Reality or a Pre-planned Business Venture?
Is Searching the Internet a Reality or a Pre-planned Business Venture?
By: iMedia News Bureau

India today has more than a 100 million internet users and is ranked third in terms of internet users in the world with around 65 million active users. E-mail is the most used and preferred objective of the users followed by online shopping, then comes in online search for various things! How many times do we use a search engine to look up something from the internet? How many times do we actually check the top 3 links or results? How many times do we click on the results displayed on the right hand side of a Google search result page? Do we even know the difference as to which of these ads are sponsored and which of these are actually the organic results?

Many active users too do not know or understand the difference between ads from Google, sponsored and organic. Presently, the scenario is completely haywire with paid advertising getting mixed with natural results. Millions across the world and the Indian sub continent still prefer Google as the primary search engine – be it on Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox! However when people realize that the topmost results of their search are either paid or sponsored, they tend to get skeptical about actually using the displayed result.

Says a study conducted by a UK based news aggregator portal OneNewsPage that most internet users trust search engine results to be relevant, objective and organic and Google built this trust as it was historically-driven. Today the search engine giant is effectively the gatekeeper to the Internet in most parts of the world. If we consider Europe and India then Google has 85% and 90% market share respectively in both the regions. What is the user perception of Google today? It is technology driven and very objective in approach. But the reality is very astonishing! It is more inclined commercially with approximately $185 billion market capitalization and annual profits of $10 billion and more!

The commercialization has been one of the chief cause for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to either suffer heavy losses or continue using the traditional mediums of advertising. There are also times when SMEs are sometimes forced to make peace by unfair means due to lack of transparency in regulatory and policy process. Further the study indicates that due to this reason, the consumers ultimately pay high costs for online services and are offered fewer competitive options and lesser innovation. With little screen estate left for unpaid listings, SMEs are forced to pay their way onto the 1st search results page to gain any visibility - these costs are ultimately passed through to consumers. Google-owned services displace competing services, siphoning away revenues and the less available capital with competing services further hinders innovation.

 Presenting the findings of the study, Dr Navneet Sharma, Director, CUTS Institute of Regulation and Competition (CIRC) said: “The unattended issues emanating from the online markets, which affect consumers and SMEs alike, required primary research. This survey is a product of this demand!” Chairing the recently concluded seminar on ‘SME Vulnerability & Resilience in the Online Economy’, organized by CIRC at The Leela, Sahar, Mumbai, Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International had said: “The exponential growth in the online market space has thrown new and complex regulatory challenges to the government in general and the CCI in particular.” Mehta highlighted the role of transparency and democracy in policies and conducts of dominant players in online markets. Continued growth, Mehta felt, of the online market, will depend on a reasoned regulatory response.

So what has been the overall impact of these commercial motives on the consumers today? They have led to significant changes in search result pages like: -

  1. More amounts of sponsored ads and Google’s very own services are exposed to the user at the cost of organic and objective results.
  2. SMEs that still rely on organic and independent results seen by users have gone for a toss.
  3. Consumers are paying higher rates for nothing which is unique and innovative.
  4. The commercialization has resulted in a reality gap and it is only increasing with every passing day
  5. The user is left so confused that he is forced to not even trust results which are purely organic. Hence there should be a clear separation amongst the results displayed.

 

With the pace with which the advertisers are going digital and adopting every way from the book and outside, the day is not far off when every search result on Google will be paid! This will not be too beneficial for the user but simultaneously it will be harmful for the brands or advertisers as well. When this day arises, the user would have lost complete trust in search and the internet and beyond all, there would be no faith in science and technology!