Users turn to Google for helpful consumer research and general information about virtually any subject. All they want is to find relevant webpages with valuable content, but Google’s sponsored advertisements— the ones that businesses pay Google to display in high-profile positions— are making it harder to do so. In this edition of “Prospect Genius Reviews…,” we’ll discuss the increasingly pervasive nature of Google’s sponsored ads and its implications.
Lately, Google’s search results pages are getting more and more crowded by sponsored advertisements (seen at the top and to the right of the search results). You may not think anything of their presence— probably because we’ve all grown accustomed to being bombarded by advertisements everywhere we go on the web— but they actually signify a disconcerting shift in Google’s practices.
What is that shift? Essentially, Google is gradually moving away from their “relevant content is king” mantra and adopting a pay-to-play model. While most of the space on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) used to be reserved for the top organic results, a large portion of that space is now taken up by paid advertisements.
Mike Blumenthal, one of the local search industry’s chief experts, wrote an illuminating article about one of the latest batches of Google’s search results testing. In it, he discusses the disproportionate ratio of sponsored results to organic and local results, and he drew this conclusion: “I guess that Google has finally given up on any form of local listing or organic page relevance and has decided that relevance is a function of payment.”
In other words, content is no longer king— money is. People looking for relevant, valuable information about a topic will become less and less likely to find the webpages they actually need because a large portion of the results will be sponsored.
Prospect Genius reviews this preferential treatment of sponsored results very negatively, but that doesn’t mean we’re surprised by it. We’ve known for years that Google would continue pushing out the organic sections of the SERPs in favor of paid sections because there’s a significant profit motive to do so. As long as Google is getting paid, it doesn’t worry too much about the quality of the results it’s providing. In fact, a couple of years ago, Google even tried to sell tags and highlights for Maps listings as an attempt to monetize the Maps sections. Although that particular plan didn’t last long, Google hasn’t been deterred. Now, as it merges the mobile and desktop versions of the SERPs, we’re seeing big, chunky objects taking up screen real estate that could otherwise be occupied by organic results; at the same time, it’s expanding the paid sections to look more like the traditional Maps listings. As paid ads crowd out real, organic results on Google’s results pages, we predict that the average user is going to feel more and more alienated.
As distasteful as we find Google’s practices, we hope it continues to alienate the general public so that its market share diminishes, thus making room for Bing and other search engines to compete. The only reason Google has been able to get away with these kinds of activities in the first place is because it has a monopoly over the search engine industry, so if it’s finally knocked down a few pegs by its own hubris, the search engine landscape will be all the better for it.
Next time on “Prospect Genius Reviews…,” we’ll take a look at Angie’s List and discuss how beneficial it actually is for small, local businesses.