By John Colahan and Calum Warren

On 6 October 2016, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced the closure of its investigation into a suspected competition law breach by some price comparison websites (PCWs) for energy tariffs on the grounds of administrative priorities. The suspected competition law breach related to certain paid online search advertising practices allegedly engaged in by the PCWs. No precise description of the practices under consideration is given in the case closure notice.  However, it appears from the notice that the practices at issue concerned arrangements involving PCWs and service providers that related to access to key words likely to be used in search terms. While the CMA has chosen not to pursue the investigation in this instance, the CMA’s case closure notice confirms that marketing initiatives – along with pricing, output and R&D, amongst others – can be an important parameter of competition.  The CMA’s statement serves as a timely reminder that companies need to be aware that communications that can be construed as agreements or concerted practices in relation to online search advertising with other market players may breach UK and EU competition law rules. The potential competition law concerns include limiting access to search terms that, among other things, could change the basis of searches by consumers, as well as impacting bidding in auctions for search terms.