Results Not Found: Potential Futures for Australia’s Google Search

Webprofits digital analyst Alex Mason
By Webprofits digital analyst Alex Mason | 27 January 2021
Webprofits digital analyst Alex Mason

Imagine an internet without Google.

Go on, give it a go.

Now, I won't say what your mind came up with, but I can fathom a guess. Maybe you immediately tried to memorise the phone number of your local plumber. Maybe you imagined a big-tech free utopia. Maybe it was an untenable nightmare in which you don't get anything done.

Maybe you just cut through all of the noise and instead imagined a flashing zoetrope of '404 - Not Found' errors running through your mind.

No matter what you imagined, it was different.

But that very different reality may come to pass if Google holds true to their proposal that, if the Australian government's news media bargaining code were to go forward in its current form, they would withdraw their search service from Australia completely.

Now, with the disclaimer that I am in no way a legislator or political analyst, we do have few possible scenarios to put forward:

Google Complies With the Government Code As Is
The search industry experiences a major shift, as the algorithm changes are now made available 14 days prior. But not to us. Only to major media players, and possibly only for the purposes of ranking news-related search. News media corps get a huge advantage over other players in search.

Government Changes The Code to Remove the Specific Reference to Linking Content
In an idea raised by Dr. Tama Leaver on The Conversation, that the major objection Google and Facebook would have to the code in terms is in the case of only when it links to content, as opposed to when it republishes this news on their own platform, or recontextualises that news. If this were to go forward, any algorithm updates would relate only to News specific display. It is most possible that the separate News results would be removed from Google in Australia, or maybe even treated more like ads.

Google Removes Specific Media Companies From Search In Australia
News in search becomes a lower priority, and while we gain no further clarity on upcoming algorithm updates, the competition for terms (that people will still be able to type in, and it's unlikely Google will serve no information on) will be taken over by non-news sites. Establishment of what is deemed a 'media site' would become a huge legislative issue.

Google Removes Any Term They Deem Related to News From Search In Australia
This is a really tough one to imagine how they'd do it, but it could actually result in result-free searches around specific topics. Google Search becomes more focused on needs-based, service and 'informational' (ie. not relating to current news) queries. Possibly we even start avoiding potential news-focused topics in search.

Google Removes Search From Australia
Other products, such as Chrome, Youtube (but possibly not News platforms on there) and Display Advertising, remain. The unknowns here are huge, but obviously, either competitors move into the space (although they will be subject to the same rules), new search engines are founded, or (although very unlikely) that old concept of a government run search engine for use within Australia is established. This scenario has the most unknowns, making it hard to establish a strong continuity plan, but one thing would remain absolutely certain: Australians would still need to search for information, and there will be a way to do it.

Google Removes All Services From Australia, and all other Search Engines also exit Australia
Magic-8-Balls become the most trusted source of information in Australia. Magic-8-Ball Optimisation (M8BO, also my favourite new Star Wars droid) is established as the highest salary job in the economy. 'Outlook Unclear' (just those words) becomes the new Australian National Anthem.

... Or anything else you can or cannot imagine.

This is an interesting time, purely due to the breadth of possibility of it all. Even if things were to go through exactly as written in the code in February, or if the code were completely revised from the ground up to either facilitate or oppose Google's proposals, the world changes.

But know that adaptability is the strongest tool in the marketer's toolset. Even if there are to be major changes, there remains a need for what we do and what we promote. The only thing that changes is how we make it happen.

Which, if we're completely honest, feels quite normal in today's world.

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