In recent times, Google’s moves have been judged by many as solely aimed at increasing profits. The Panda update didn’t help, as its emphasis on authorship and social media was seen by many as less of an attempt at improving search results, but more one of imposing the use of G+ on content writers and SEOs. Indeed, Google’s own head of spam, Matt Cutts, took an unprecedented PR-tinged approach to the way Google makes money and explained that Panda had actually caused them to lose money, on account of losing many sites that relied on AdSense for monetization. At the same time, it’s becoming increasingly obvious to users that Google often seems to display a much larger number of paid search results than organic ones. A recent analysis found that, out of all search results for a relatively common key phrase, only 13 per cent of results were organic, while the rest were all paid for, in one way or another.
Now, this situation is worth more in-depth analysis than the above snapshot. For one thing, if one (or even several) queries yield a similar ratio of paid versus organic results, this does not mean all searches will be the same. Essentially, as Google tries to take into account a large number of factors for deciding what to list on its SERPs, just about any one search is different from the next. Aside from paid ads, Google will look at how much a given search term lends itself to displaying promoted results. It will also factor in the searcher’s location, which brings the issue of local results into the equation. Users (and even some SEOs) tend to assume that if a result is listed on Google Maps, then it’s automatically a paid ad. This is not the case, as maps display both organic location results, as well as paid ones. Maps are important, especially for users in places where they are heavily populated with results, irrespective of their nature.
Moreover, some have noted that Google is using navigation links to try and lure more brands into using their commercial services. But the ‘historical’ truth is that those navigation links have been there for a long time – long before the issue of organic versus paid first cropped up. Meanwhile, Google’s direct competitor Bing is engaging in some ad-heavy result listing of its own; perhaps even more commercial than Google’s. For one thing, a similar analysis to the one performed on Google revealed that the very same search term will yield all but one paid results above the fold. There is one other organic result on that page, but it’s at the bottom and searchers can only see its title. What’s more, map results on Bing don’t lead to actual map results, but to the Bing map per se, forcing the user to repeat the query. Bear in mind that this is also something that was happening on Google, but was changed not long ago, following criticism.
In a nutshell, yes, Google will push some of its paid content, but, for the time being, it looks like it’s still the best alternative, for those concerned that they are not getting enough traffic from organic alone.