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How do Google Ads Impact Organic Search?

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google search

By Kent Yunk | March 7, 2016

Why Maximizing Revenue is Bad for Google

In a recent change to Google search results, Google Ads no longer appear on the right side of the search engine results page (SERP). Instead, Google now only shows ads at the top and bottom of the page. As well, the search results page now includes up to four paid ads at the top of the page, thus pushing organic search results way down on the page. Many questions and strong feelings surround this change, including how it will impact the CPC (cost per click) for Google Ads, how it will influence SEO and how it will affect the average Google user.

While the change to the search results page layout does ensure consistent results for both mobile and desktop users, this change also serves Google’s interest to increase advertising revenue. Extensive research shows users read Web content in an F-shaped pattern, with most time spent reading on the left side of a page. The heat maps below, a product of Nielsen Group research from years ago but still relevant today, clearly illustrate the F-shaped reading pattern.

f_reading_pattern_eyetrackingGoogle, of course, knows better than anyone how users behave on the Web. In addition to knowing where and how user eyes move, Google knows exactly where users click and what layout presents the best opportunities for Google to maximize their value.

The addition of a fourth Google Ad at the top of a SERP indicates Google’s recognition that the top space of the page is the most valuable real estate for revenue purposes. That additional ad, though, pushes organic search results down on the page - typically well-below the fold. By way of example, I recently searched for “Hotels in San Francisco”. As you can see in the screenshots below, the entire first screen fills with Google Ads. Scrolling to the second full screen shows a map provided by Google with results in the area. The third scroll of the screen finally shows organic search results for “Hotels in San Francisco”.

google search

What does this mean for users? In time, the data will tell us exactly how this change impacts Google Ads, SEO, organic search and the average user. At Roaring Pajamas, though, we think Google’s drive to increase advertising in search results may alienate users. By pushing organic listings so far down the page, Google forces the user to spend time looking at advertisements rather than consuming content likely more relevant to that user’s needs. Since Google’s organic results have historically been both excellent and relevant, a non-savvy user (or even a savvy user in a hurry) may not realize the results at the top of the page are paid advertisements. Over time, customer confidence in Google results may erode; users will be frustrated by bad results and time wasted finding relevant results. This recent post on Techpinions, The Danger of Over-Monetization, supports our theory. I particularly like the assertion that, “There’s a tipping point at which Google will go too far in pursuit of a higher ad load and end up pushing users away rather than generating ever-higher mobile ad revenues.”

What are your thoughts on this change to Google Ads and search results? Do you find yourself clicking on ads you normally wouldn’t because they are higher on the page than previously? What do you see as the long-term implications on organic search to the average user? I’m interested in your thoughts. I will continue to monitor this over the next many months and will likely post an update in an upcoming blog post.

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