The end of organic listings in Google?

By Professor Krish Bhaskar



Google's major changes since 2008

2009: Google and MCC interface changes, several new versions of Editor. Feb. 20: Updated Display URL Policy. March 4: Expandable Rich Media Ads on the content network (beta). March 11: Interest Based User Targeting on the Content Netword (beta). May 14: Goole Loosens Their Trademark Restrictions. July 24: Local Extenmsions for Local Business Ads. Aug. 6: Google Moves Paid Ads Closer to Organic Listing. Sept. 17: The Doubleclick Ad Exchange is Integrated on the Content Network. Oct 29: New Adwords Comparison Ads. Nov 3: Ad Sitelinks in Adwords. Nov 11 and 24: Product Extension Open to All (beta). Dec 14:Googles's Real-Time Search and RSS feeds, among others...
2010 (to mid-March): Google Reader now lets you 'subscribe' without RSS! DoubleClick As Planner. New mobile service. New Pharmacy policy rules. AdWords comparison ads. API C13 dies.

Google search is changing…
No one can have failed to notice. But the extent of the changes has probably been missed by many and these changes have occurred just over the last 15 months. Whether spurred on by one of these two factors, Google is changing.

Which one is really irrelevant (a fact of life) and less important than implications of these changes. The most important question, in my view, is whether these developments have no stopped or are they part of a continuing trend?
If a continuing trend will paid search via AdWords and these newer additions to a search engine page result (SERP) effectively ‘crowd out’ the natural or organic listings making much or SEO irrelevant or more difficult to accomplish for clients effectively



Additional Google search features
Any search now has a news results, video results, shopping results, may be RSS feed, tweet results, image results, blog posts, book results, latest results, a Wikipedia result or two, a You Tube result or two and so it goes on(1).
Just consider the search page results for ‘social networking’. Google has tried lots of complexity, such as image adverts, video adverts etc.
In the search result for social networking the top red box has news results and image results. The bottom red box has blog posts, book results and searches relating to social networking.


Impact so far on organic listings?
My view is that Goggle’s changes to AdWords and its SERP page has had a major impact on the balance between organic and paid search – many of the changes (see above) have the effect of reducing the importance of natural search or moving the organic listing off the first page results’ listing. Let’s call this the ‘crowding out’ effect.



Expanding AdWords page search
There is also a second factor at work. One clearly motivated by the profit incentive. AdWords makes money (it could be argued that it is the most significant profit generator that funds many of Google’s other activities)(2).

The second factor which is discussed below in greater detail is that we will see a greater percentage of SERPs with new ad formats and ad extensions blended into text adverts(4).
Note that the crowding out effect is noticeable here. The first red box shows two natural search results for the same company which, may or may not have been manipulated there(5). The second red box shows a ‘shopping results’ section with images and pricing information chosen by what often appears as a random algorithm.

AdWords Ad Sitelinks – taking space away from organic listings
Each of these advert extensions have the result of increasing the space allocated to paid search or AdWords adverts and reducing that available to organic listings.

AdWords sitelinks (6) is defined below (by AdWords) with an example below that: Ad Sitelinks is a new AdWords feature that allows you to extend the value of your existing AdWords ads by providing additional links to content deep within your sites. Rather than sending all users to the same landing page

A high quality (not the keyword quality field more to do with a high CTR%) to be permissible and you may need to be whitelisted (plead with your Google rep on hands and knees but it won’t always work). Great for paid searchers because it allows them to advertise new products, special offers and a continuing sales on discounted items. In effect this allows the AdWords advertiser an additional 140 characters in their adverts. Reported improvements in CTR range between 20%-30%. Bad for SEO.

Product listings and extensions – taking space away from organic listings
Product extensions pull relevant Google Merchant Center products into a box featured at the bottom of a traditional AdWords advert. Product extensions may show the product images, pricing and titles of products that are the closest matches with an individual advert – but it does not always work that perfectly.
Again you may need to be whitelisted and you also score a sufficiently high CTR and internal Google quality score. Google controls the product selection or rather the Plus box extensions. This can be very trying - sometimes the plus box extensions will not show on the adverts you like it to show on.

With whose major product sales were TVs (second green box), the Plus box extensions mainly showed accessories – see right
Possible good for paid searchers. Again bad for SEO.


Other types of text adverts – taking space away from organic listings
Some of these are on beta or restricted use as of now. But my view is that they migrate to common usage:






All these three advert extensions are bad for SEO.


Other influences – taking space away from organic listings

And the list goes on. All possibly bad for SEO.

So where does that leave organic listings?
There are two effects which together are squeezing out the traditional role of SEO or making organic listings much more difficult to achieve.

The net effect is to a) diminish the importance of organic listings and b) make the life of the SEO professional that much more difficult.


(1) I am not the only one thinking this. See: Posted 04 March 2010 13:34 pm by Patricio Robles.
(2) Note that Google does not believe in segments (accounting definition) and therefore in its Form 10-K reporting does not have any segmental reporting. Google states: ‘we consider ourselves to be in a single reporting segment and operating unit structure’.
(3) The size of the first page has also grown though.
(4) Alex Cohen agrees. (Alex Cohen, Search Engine Watch, Feb 10, 2010) In this article he outlines a plethora of new diversity in Google’s AdWords text adverts.
(5) The European Commission claims that Google does manipulate results in an anti-monopoly case against Google in the European Union. See Financial Times: “Google hits back over algorithm dispute” By Maija Palmer in London, Richard Waters in San Francisco and Nikki Tait in Brussels. Published: February 26 2010 02:00.
(6) See for a good explanation.