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How the $2.7 billion EU antitrust fine could change Google search

Google Shopping will most likely revert to an earlier version in Europe.

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The European Union has fined Google $2.7 billion for allegedly favoring its own shopping service over others in search results.

This fine for anticompetitive behavior requires Google to change the design of Google Shopping in Europe within 90 days in order to meet the region’s legal requirements. Google will consider an appeal during that time period, which means that while the company tries to figure out how to adapt to the ruling, it will also be fighting it.

The EU hasn’t specified what changes Google should make — that’s up to the company. But if Google makes changes that don’t satisfy Europe, it will be sent back to the drawing board.

Whatever changes Google might make could impact its bottom line even beyond the hefty fine the company already faces.

Revert to an older version

The changes would most likely see Google reverting to an older version of its shopping feature in Europe.

Google Shopping was first released as Froogle in the early 2000s, and was later renamed Google Product search. Over the course of its development, Google has restricted the service to only displaying paying ads, and not including free results.

The service has also received more prominent placement. Whereas previously it was accessed through one of the “more” tabs on the Google search page, results from Google Shopping now display at the very top of the search results page when a user searches for a product that yields shopping results.

“This strategy relied on Google's dominance in general internet search, instead of competition on the merits in comparison shopping markets,” reads the commission’s press release.

Reverting to an earlier design might look like a shopping-result box that displays below some non-paying search results, or Google might try placing Google Shopping ads on the side of the results page.

Reverting to relegating the feature to its own separate page would also seem like it could satisfy the commission’s requirements, but that seems like a more extreme move than Google would be willing to make, because it would basically bury the shopping tool itself.

Credit Suisse analysts have also suggested that Google might elect to swap out one of the paying ads in its Google Shopping feature for a free slot. Or, if it wants to do something even more low-impact, the company could just add an additional link for a competing product that’s not included in its ads to the right of the ads on the search page.

But changes could mean less ad revenue

Depending on the change Google makes, it could result in less ad revenue. Displaying paid shopping ads less prominently by putting them below some organic results could make the ads less valuable to the companies buying them, as would relegating results to a separate page.

Swapping out a paid ad for a non-paying slot might not erode the value of an individual ad, but it would mean that Google shows fewer paid shopping ads. And adding a spot to the right for a free shopping result might make it less attractive to buy an ad if a potential advertiser thinks their content can rise to that spot organically, or it might just cheapen the real estate by making the shopping feature more crowded.

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