Insurancewide’s James Harrison says a new best buy strategy is on test, but it’s early days yet.

Speculation is rife about Google’s recent experiment in finance comparison, Google Merchant Search, and nowhere more so than in the insurance industry. According to observers, a move into insurance comparison could be the next logical step for the search engine giant. But let’s not get too hysterical too soon.

First, the experiment is still just that, an experiment in its testing phase. Google has had a price comparison engine before. Google Merchant Search is a repackage of Froogle, a big disappointment for Google.

Google search is a fabulous success, attracting 87% of all searches in the UK. All revenues are generated by clicks on the sponsored links (adwords) displayed around the main search results. This model has been hugely successful, so why mess with it?

Well, type in keywords such as mortgages, car insurance and loans and sites such as Confused and Moneysupermarket appear at the top of the page,and when you click through to them Google gets nothing. Google wants to relegate these free listings down the page and display its own Best Buy table at the top. The advertiser will add the details of its offer into Google’s system and how much it wishes to pay for a lead. Google’s experiment is to see whether advertisers will pay more for these leads than they do for clicks from a standard search.

The test is with secured loans; nothing else is in the immediate pipeline and of all the possible financial products open to comparison, insurance is one of the least easy to tackle.

Naturally, some insurance comparison websites are right to be concerned, not least because they spend a fortune on advertising with Google, but let’s look at the hard facts.

Unlike most other financial products, insurance is not a straightforward commodity. There is no ‘average policy price’, particularly not in motor insurance, and so a best buy table is not a valid option. As we well know, policy price is personal to the individual and most generalisations over value are misleading.

Besides, as any decent aggregator would say, customers should be as concerned with policy quality as they are with the price and so not being able to identify accurate prices is only the tip of the iceberg of obstacles faced by Google.

So insurance should be safe…for now.

James Harrison is chief executive of