Remember the good old days when you had to do the work to compare prices? If you wanted to buy something at the lowest price, you had to spend hours looking at different providers, figuring out how their offerings differed to identify the cheapest. Then Google changed everything.
Google became the most direct way we’d ever had to compare prices. You could search for just about anything and it did the leg work for you. It was very effective. But is this still the case?
When it comes to some services, Google has never actually been the best tool. Google could never quite identify how to compare home insurance quotes, home mortgages, auto financing, and other complex finance services.
Now, there are reasons to believe that even for the more straightforward stuff, Google is not a great source. Here’s why.
The Highest Bidder
Once Google had been around for a few years, people started figuring out how to game its system to be listed at the top of search results. This turned into a whole industry of search engine optimization (SEO), with experts following the clues for the best strategies as Google worked to stay ahead of them. Eventually, Google did a good enough job that the best SEO advice today is to create high quality content.
However, along the way, Google began providing methods for people to get ahead without SEO. Now, you can be listed at the top of a Google search as long as you’re willing to pay for it. Google’s top spots are reserved for ‘Sponsored’ content.
Google didn’t stop selling their real estate at Sponsored content, though. They also began providing space to list a range of products whenever you are searching for something that can be bought. You can pay for your website to inhabit Sponsored spots, as well as the space where actual products are listed.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t use Google for comparisons. You simply need to skip past the content that has been paid for.
But that is no longer effective either. Unfortunately, Google has become very good at misleading people into believing that they are looking at the best possible prices. This is because they have no responsibility to show you the best prices.
Let’s say you search for ‘cheapest flights to New York’. You’ve made what you’re searching for clear. But when Google shows you a list of flights, it does not state that these are the cheapest flights (or even all the flights available). You make the assumption that there are no cheaper flights because you expect Google to show you what you searched for.
The fact of the matter is that Google has no mandate to show us the ‘best’ results. For years, it was what the company prided itself on, and we learnt to trust it. Now, however, Google is far too big for our disgruntlement to matter all that much. We simply have nowhere else to turn when searching for honesty online – even the lesser-used alternatives make no promises to give us the best results.
The More Expensive, The Better
What complicates things further is that Google, and any comparison website, stands to benefit from more expensive sales. Any service that receives commission for sales made has incentive to try to convince people to spend more. This doesn’t mean that they’ll try to sell the most expensive products or services, as that would drive people away, but they won’t make an effort to sell the cheapest ones.
Google is no longer a great place to compare prices. But is there anything better? If you cannot trust Google or comparison sites, who do you trust? Your best bet is to do extensive research yourself, but even then you have to rely on customer reviews that may be fake.
In short, there is no easy way to compare the prices of things online without falling for strategic marketing. Google may still be better than the alternatives, but it is useful to keep in mind that they are willing to manipulate you too.