Google’s Matt Cutts On Why Ads Can Be More Helpful Than Organic Results

    September 6, 2012
    Chris Crum

Some people think Google’s search results pages are getting too cluttered. There’s no question that Google has been adding more elements to them over the years. In fact, just today, Google announced that it is expanding the “Knowledge Graph Carousel,” its visual placement of fairly large Knowledge Graph results directly underneath the search box, to the rest of the English speaking world. Other languages are surely not too far behind.

Sometimes, however, it’s simply Google ads that are taking up much of the screen real estate, and as we’ve already seen, Google is showing less organic results for a growing number of results pages.

As a user, do you think Google’s paid results are often more helpful than its organic results? Which perform better for your business? Let us know in the comments.

Google’s Matt Cutts participated in an interesting discussion in a Hacker News thread, in response to an article from Jitbit, called, “Google Search is only 18% Search“.

Despite the title, the article is really about how little of the screen is used to display non-paid search results for a Google SERP. In the example author Alex Yumashev uses, Google was found to dedicate 18.5% of the screen to results (not including ads). The author found a screenshot from years ago, where Google was found to dedicate as much as 53% of the screen to results.

Read the article if you want to get into the methodology, the resolutions, etc. There’s certainly room for debate around some of that, but in more general terms, there’s no denying that Google’s SERPs have changed over the years.

Cutts argued that the article has a number of “major issues,” though most of his points are based on the notion that the article is about Google reducing “search” related elements, as opposed to just classic non-paid results, which I don’t think was really the point the author was trying to make.

Cutts points out that the left-hand column is about search, that the search box is about search, and that whitespace is about search. He notes that there are “tons of searches” where Google doesn’t show ads.

“A lot of people like to take a query that shows ads and say ‘Aha!’ but they’re forgetting all the queries that don’t show ads,” said Cutts. “Not to mention that our ads aren’t just a straight auction; we try to take into account things like the quality of the destination page in deciding whether and where to show ads, just like we do with web search results.”

Of course, Yumashev did acknowledge that he was looking for a screen with as many ads as possible, indicating that this is specifically about the pages that do show ads. The “help-desk app” query the author used for the first example certainly does have a fair amount of ads “above the fold“.

In his argument, Cutts said, “We actually think our ads can be as helpful as the search results in some cases. And no, that’s not a new attitude.”

One reader challenged him to come up with an example.

“Ads can totally be useful,” Cutts responded. “Here’s one from earlier today: [att cordless phones]. For Google’s web results, we often interpret a query [X] as ‘information about X.’ The #1 web search result I see is which does have information about cordless phones from AT&T. But I was looking for which models of cordless phones AT&T has. There’s an ad that points to… which is actually more helpful because that shows me a bunch of different models.”

“Now you can argue that Google should be able to find and somehow return the page that AT&T bought the ad for,” he added. “But that can be a hard problem (Bing returns the same page that Google does at #1 for example, as does DDG). So that ad was quite helpful for me, because it took me to a great page.”

You can read the Hacker News thread to see Cutts’ comments in their entirety, and completely in context with the rest of the conversation. He also goes into why he thinks Google+ is a good business tool.

There’s no question that Google is cramming more non-traditional content into search results pages than it used to, particularly with things like the Knowledge Graph, Search Plus Your World, and now the Gmail results, which are in opt-in field trial mode. Google is showing more direct answers, and on a larger number of SERPs, it’s showing less organic results. In fact, Google is reportedly even testing SERPs with less organic results than previously thought.

It’s not all about ads (though Google’s revenue certainly is).

Hat tip to Barry Schwartz for pointing to the Hacker News thread.

Do you think Google is showing too few organic results? Let us know what you think.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.