Is this good or bad news, is the question we should be asking ourselves. Yes, there are more advertising opportunities, but the playing field has drastically changed over the last 18 months and will continue to change in 2011.
Early movers will take advantages of the changes made by Google, while others will struggle to come to terms with how best to adapt. There is also the potential fall out of search engine users moving away from Google search, as their primary search engine. In this article, I will explore some of the changes and discuss the potential impact this will have on Google search advertising and the ability to reach target markets effectively.
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the changes Google have made, followed by assessing the extent of advert domination in search results.
Changes made to search results
- Localisation of search results. Google now automatically recognises users based on there location, South Africa, Cape Town etc., and displays results accordingly.
- The introduction of Google Places within the search results, with Google Places results often taking preference over organic listings, plus the introduction of the Google Places map in a primary Google Adwords position, resulting in adverts being pushed down in position.
- The inclusion of related info, depending on the search term, such as news results, images, real time results from Twitter or Facebook etc. All these additional results compete for user attention, prime position on the search results page and ultimately affecting the search experience and therefore the users clicking actions.
- Changes to Adwords that makes first page results listing imperative. You have to be on the first page to achieve any meaningful campaign results.
In the example below, I used the search term “marketing agency,” as marketers are typically early movers in online advertising, however other markets and industries will soon follow. The blue shaded area in the image below, are listings influenced by advertising (Adwords / PPC) and Google Places listing, which are highly influenced by savvy marketers (Not all listings in Google Places are equal. A savvy marketer understands how to influence a top Google places listing and dominate over other listings.). The only true organic search listings that remain above the fold are positioned 6 and 7 (that’s two out of the ten results displayed above the fold). The second image below shows that even scrolling down the page, organic listings are sacrificed for ads and Google Places even more so.
So the reality is Google search results are now heavy influenced by advertiser demand, making it more of an Ad Search Engine. How will this affect Google’s position as the number one search engine and will we see internet users migrating to other search engines such as Bing? Such migration could result in advertisers having to consider other search engines in their search marketing planning.
Another important issue to take note of is how the Google Places map, in the right column, has pushed the Adwords adverts down in position. This has the affect of devaluing the adverts circled in red and driving up the pricing of the top three positions in Adwords. I say this, based on the following reasoning. Firstly search users will either ignore the map image (similar to the way we ignore banner adverts when scanning content on a page) or be drawn to the map. Both actions have the affect of drawing the search users’ eye away from the circled adverts. Adwords bidding and positioning becomes more complex. There is no doubt that the primary three Adwords adverts at the top of the page now move into a league of their own, in terms of value and click through rates.
Another area of concern is the impact these changes will have on search engine optimisation. Google’s rise to the top was founded on provided the most meaningful and relevant search results. A complex indexing algorithm that birthed the SEO industry. An algorithm that drove meaningful results for internet users, while providing web publishers with an opportunity to growth / improve search traffic through optimisation and rankings. We all know that first page ranking is paramount and a top three position is gold, however, how are web publishers, supposed to complete with adverts and Google places, when only two of the top twelve listings are organic listings? Is Google’s strategy, simply to get people to spend less on SEO and more on Adwords? Will we see Google Places or a direct click through to the website become a paid for service in the future?
The bottom line is search marketing and SEO strategies need to be re-evaluated with the above being taken into consideration.