Price comparison sites could be in for a shake-up following the launch by Google UK of its own car insurance comparison service. The service tops the list of results for any search on 'car insurance', just below the paid-for advertisements, and its prominence has raised speculation over what effect this might have on other comparison sites such as moneysupermarket.com and confused.com which appear below it.
The position of the listing, which has a 'Start a new quote' button to take users to the Google quote form, has led some commentators to question whether the search giant is using its dominant position unfairly. Comments on SEO forums have been overwhelmingly negative, with many criticising Google's decision to give itself the number one slot.
In Google's defence, however, is the fact that the listing is set in a boxed panel with a very noticeable 'sponsored' tag in the right hand corner and does not pretend to be part of the organic search list. Its presence on the page will push some listings below the fold but it does not replace the top ranking result. Experienced SEO professionals say there is no need for sites to panic.
"It is too early to say what effect this is likely to have on price comparison sites and SEO in general, but it doesn't change the basic principles. The most successful sites will continue to be those that offer great content and a meaningful experience for their users," says Alex Wares, managing director of SEO agency Mediarun.
Suspicion of Google's motives will be further diluted by the very tight keyword keyword group it appears to be targeting. Its listing is nowhere to be seen in searches for 'motor car insurance' or 'vehicle insurance' which adds weight to the likelihood that Google will tread lightly. They have had one run-in with the European Commission already, in 2010 when they were accused of abusing their position, and are unlikely to want another. It is equally doubtful they will risk angering the price comparison sites that spend good advertising money with them.
And none of this is particularly new. Google bought comparison site BeatTheQuote.com early last year and launched Google Adviser in the United States shortly afterwards. This compares deals being offered on a range of financial products and has been running without much fuss or outrage from the industry. Car insurance is just one more product.