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Google for Jobs: no one likes you when you’re popular

Remember back to the pre-pandemic days – specifically, to 2017? That was the year that Google launched its Google for Jobs initiative. It promised to do for job search what it had previously done for shopping and travel: build a better (search) mousetrap. Google even started showing up at job board conferences like Jobg8, talking about the benefits of inclusion in the Google job search box that would appear at the top of every user’s search results.

The pitch: use the Google job ad schema, and your jobs will be included in the search box results! Inbound traffic will ensue! And – they always emphasized this – it’s all free! No charge (for the immediate future, at least).

And so the Google for Jobs search box quickly became one of the top job ad referrers, sending traffic to job boards, career sites, and ATSs. Some sites – such as Indeed – refused to participate. It was speculated at the time that Indeed’s loss was other sites’ gain – and that speculation seemed to be true. Most job sites did see traffic increases. Google also claimed that the traffic their search box generated was higher quality – more accurate and likely to result in applications. That assertion also seemed to line up with reality.

Could it be that Google’s offering was truly a win-win?

Well, maybe not. Ask the Europeans. In 2019, a group of 23 job boards sent a letter to the EU’s Competition Commissioner, claiming that Google for Jobs exhibited anti-competitive behavior.  Among their concerns was that job seekers were handing over data that could help Google bypass the job boards entirely. Google claimed it was merely innovating and helping everyone.

Then a few weeks ago, a much larger group of companies once again sent a letter to EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager, again claiming that Google was providing preferential treatment for its own services. The letter reminded the Commissioner that a June 2017 decision concerning Google Shopping set a precedent for related Google activities – such as Google for Jobs. (Note: Google is appealing the fine issued in relation to the June 2017 decision).

Do you get the feeling that those European job sites are not going to give up on this? They see Google for Jobs as an existential threat to their business – just as online retailers saw Google Shopping as a similar threat.

A few thoughts:

  • Remember that Google suddenly dropped Hire, their SMB ATS, not long after the EU issued their competition decision. There was speculation that the two were related.
  • Remember that it is likely that the EU will increase – rather than decrease – their regulation of online giants like Google and Facebook
  • Remember that traffic is a fleeting thing
  • And finally – remember that the complaining parties are under the same pandemic stress as the rest of the job board industry – which will lend urgency to their demands

I suspect that we will see a strategic retreat – or perhaps reconfiguring – of Google for Jobs in the EU.  That may be followed by an Indeed resurgence in the region – which may land them in the regulatory hotseat as well.  Or we may see a third way, where Google shares the data it collects from job seekers with all job boards. Talk about a leveling effect!

What I don’t expect to see: continued inaction by the EU. Yes, they’re a bureaucracy. Yes, they have many other problems. But…beating up on the Internet giants is both on-task for their privacy concerns AND politically popular. Throw in the pressure of a multi-billion dollar industry, and it will be enough to move them to action.

What do you think?

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