Consumers are drawn to the top-ranked searches when looking for products online, invariably overlooking smaller businesses, a new report reveals.
A new report by the Australia Institute, based on a survey of 1,084 people in July, reveals 46% of respondents say the order in which search results appear “always” or “sometimes” influences their purchasing decisions.
Just 15% of respondents indicated that in their most recent web search, they looked beyond the first page of search results, suggesting smaller businesses face an uphill battle to be found online.
According to the survey, 37% of respondents were unaware search engines display paid advertising, while 42% believe relevance is more important than paid advertising.
Meanwhile, more than a third of respondents did not know search engines would change based on what engine they use.
Achieving a high ranking in search results is the primary goal for many SMEs. Ranking first is closely linked with higher sales and brand recognition, and requires a significant amount of time and effort.
However, the report highlights the way in which search engines can amplify the market concentration enjoyed by larger retailers.
Richard Denniss, Australia Institute executive director and co-author of the report, says online retail could suffer the same fate as shopping centres, in which “the appearance of choice exists but actual choices are limited to a small number of players”.
Small business lobbyist Peter Strong has echoed this sentiment, claiming society has become “laissez faire” with regard to the internet.
“We need to ensure that the likes of Westfield and Coles and Woolworths cannot control the net the way they control the real world,” Strong said in a statement.
“If we do not take heed of this research, then the internet will belong to big business and, once again, prices will rise and choice will disappear. Now is the time to get more information and act.”
According to Chris Thomas, chief executive of SEO and SEM company Reseo, Google provides businesses with plenty of resources to achieve higher rankings.
Thomas says if businesses are only using search engines to generate traffic, they are missing out on a wide range of possibilities open to them.
“There are other avenues to get people to your website and social media is one of them. Whether you’re advertising through Facebook, Google or so on, it’s really just about ROI and getting those conversions right,” he says.
He says Google has given developers plenty of support, especially SMEs.
“Businesses have a huge amount of opportunity to optimise images, optimise video and that sort of thing. Google Places is available as well,” he says.