Archive for March 2011

Google Buys Insurance Aggregator Beatthatquote.com

Meerkats and Opera Singers beware: Google are coming

The big insurance industry story that made the headlines of both the trade papers and the nationals this month was mega global search engine come media owner come O/S provider come whatever else they are now, company Google have bought financial comparison site Beat That Quote for a cool £37.7m.

It was an interesting if somewhat fairly inevitable move from the mega global search engine come…. well you get the point.

I say inevitable as apart from the fact that Google are trying to get their grubby little mitts into pretty much every possible vertical there is to be had, it was also a fairly well known industry ‘secret’ that they were looking to step into the financial comparison site arena, ever since news of their failed attempt to purchase LoveMoney.com.

In many ways Beat That Quote fit the acquisition profile perfectly for Google. They are a ‘two click’ property (a website which has short, quick user journey) and Google have often shown a taste for these in the past.  Also the business model of aggregators is proven to be successful as long as you have traffic and Google have more traffic than you can shake a big, digital stick at.

The proprietary comparison technology Beat That Quote represents is arguably the strongest in the sector with exception of Moneysupermarket.com which would have proven to be a much more complex acquisition. They brought in £6m in revenue last year but due to a hugely aggressive (and expensive) customer acquisition strategy made a £2m loss. Google can take a large part of the cost away from delivering ‘eye balls on the page’ so has the opportunity to turn the deficit around within a relatively short time.

So on the surface the move makes sense however there are a number of under currents to this deal that have got those in the insurance mergers and acquisitions sector and beyond questioning the wisdom of the move.  The biggest question marks are about Beat That Quotes existing ties with Google’s two biggest rivals Yahoo! and MSN.

One particularly interesting conflict is that Beat That Quote essentially engineered MSN Compare on a white label basis – whether maintenance and further development is part of the contract remains unclear but it will be interesting to see if Beat That Quote will continue its white label policies now they are under Google’s banner. It also seems that Beat That Quote already has agreements in place with both MSN and Yahoo! which provide a  big chunk of their existing traffic. Will these two major competitors of Google’s be so happy to continue to push traffic to their nemesis?

Of course this second issue is a lesser worry to Google and they will probably bring far more traffic to the table than Beat That Quote could lose from MSN and Yahoo! This is certainly more than feasible when given Google’s growing dominance of all things… well just all things.

Yet despite their omnipresent magnificence, it was just hours after the takeover that Google was having SEO issues with Beat That Quote. Embarrassingly Google were forced to remove all of Beat That Quotes SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) due to certain alleged questionable SEO practices (Link buying etc – just the type of questionable practices that Google had recently made a big song and dance about clamping down on.

To be fair to Google they stood by their own rules in this case even though it was their new baby getting hit. However, the timing of removing the SERPs could be interpreted as a pretty slick PR move by the cynical amongst us. Their PR machine does seem to be currently entrenched in a full on battle to stem the growing tide of distrust amongst the masses of Google’s ever growing claim of total world dominance.

In fact in my humble opinion the Google PR team is only just about managing to stop the company overtaking Microsoft as the worlds most loathed organization – although on these shores the UK Government is having a fair crack at the title as well at the moment, but we’ll save that for another day.

For now however, Google have magnanimously allowed their own company back onto the SERPs (after what one assumes was some vigorous housekeeping) and have swiftly established a very firm footing in the financial services market.

What this means to the market remains to be seen, but it is clear that the fiercely competitive insurance aggregator sector now has a new contender with the technology, the audience and the financial backing to seriously shake things up. It’ll be an interesting ride that’s for sure.