in Online Advertising

Google Gets Into The Lead Gen Business: Merchant Search Beta

Updated on 8th June 2008

So Google is about to get into the financial comparison market.  Look what I saw when I just did a search for secured loans:


A customised ad slot promoting Google Merchant Search Beta, with a helpful dropdown of loan amounts.  Clicking through the ad leads to this comparison of different loans providers:


Holy moly.  Is Google trying to beat some of their biggest advertisers at their own game?  This is a big leap into the CPA business.  As the FAQ page says:

Participating providers pay Google when someone requests a quote through this system.

Why Secured Loans?
Secured loans are the easiest financial products to compare side-by-side. Companies can simply tell Google their interest rates for different loans amounts and that’s more or less it.  Compared to more complex products such as insurance or mortgages it’s a walk in the park.  The requirements for going beyond secured loans should not be underestimated.  As Doug Scott points out, managing dozens of feeds that change in realtime can lead to massive technical headaches.

Google also has another problem enticing traditional, high street lenders into competing in the AdWords auction.  Looking up at that SERPs screenshot, you can see only see comparators and bad credit specialists.  That’s because those advertisers have bigger margins and can afford to bid higher.  High street brands just can’t afford to appear at those high CPCs.  Therefore Google is looking for another mechanism to get at their marketing budgets.

Is Google Abusing Its Position?
Perhaps. Google is promoting Merchant Search Beta with an ad that has a title of 49 characters, almost double what it allows other advertisers. Not to mention the dropdown, again a feature unavailable to anyone else.

Google usually pushes new features through universal search. Patrick Altoft has a mock-up of how that might look if Merchant Search appeared there.

Ultimately Google has got to decide whether the revenue it earns through the Merchant Search can surpass the revenue it would make selling that top spot to an advertiser.  It might take sometime for Google to make that decision, so expect more experiments like this in the future.

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