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

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Google’s Matt Cutts On Why Ads Can Be More Helpful Than Organic Results
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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 http://telephones.att.com/att/index.cfm/cordless-telephones/ 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 http://telephones.att.com/att/index.cfm/cordless-telephones/… 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.

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


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  • lots0

    Google is a Corporation… that runs a search engine.

    Matt Cutts is nothing more than a paid mouth piece for the cooperation.

    So of course to him paid adds are as good or even better than organic results… and I think you will see a lot more googlies trying to tell us all that google’s paid adds as good or better than their so called “orgnic” results.

    Google has turned into a bad joke on the Internet community.

    • http://www.LAokay.com Steve G

      I agree, even when Google does something bad, Matt Cutts is right there to tell you how wonderful Google still is. Microsoft has been doing test studies from off the street people who have given Bing higher marks than Google’s results. I dare Google to do the same kind of a test and publish the results even if Bing is favored over Google. It’s like Coke not doing the same blind taste test as Pepsi did simply because they know more people are going to choose Pepsi and Coke would be forced to not publish the results. So I dare Google to really find out about their search results in comparison to Bing. They will be shocked as they all think Google is #1 based on results and not marketing tricks they use.

  • lots0

    Does anyone remember when Matt Cutts said Google promised not to become a “Destination” and said they would never compete with webmasters… What a bunch of liars.

    Also what is with google’s paid ads background color.. I thought the US Government told them to differentiate between paid and non-paid results… what is the color difference now… one shade?

  • http://www.domainsinternational.net Carlos Martins

    Well i thuink Google is an evil machine that try to monopolize everything even when they try to convince us that their guides and instructions just want to help webmasters to target customers and not them. The real story is that if we don´t pay a penny to Google (with Adwords) or haven´t the AdSense but other advertisers instead they punish our sites with a low PR. Concerning the organic searches all we have is a bunch of sentences related with religious minds searching for bibles and we haven´t any long tail keyword with a the word “bible” into it. My web site is full of long tail keywords (now is the super highway for seo development) and just a few of organiz searches are presented by Google Analytis that match with what we have on the site.
    Can you help me to understand why this is happening?
    Thanks and regards
    Carlos

  • Justin

    i think matt cutts more useful than cucumber. From one side we can launch on matt cutts speeches, but from other side cucumber is food.

  • http://www.bible-knowledge.com chris

    if you are selling seo, you now have to bake PPC into the mix, plus it gets them business right from the start, well, that is if they have a good landing page and can close the leads.

    on a different note, what plugin are you using on the bottom right that says… check out this article.

  • Tominguez

    Matt Cutts is right, I hate to admit it, google search results are so bad that any ad, no matter how bad is more useful, what he failed to add is that an ad is more useful to google’s income. Google has turned into an annoying ad search engine.

  • Brian

    Google has been displaying too many ads on first SERP, for obvious reasons, but it can be a good thing when users are in the buying phase and looking for many different business to price shop. However, some of the company websites doing PPC are not appealing at all with low amounts of information. Most are just landing pages. I heard recently that google is actually put ads within the organic results to get more spots for their precious Adwords. I don’t know if Google money hungry attitude will help users or turn them off because majority of the sites are not informative and what will happen when companies don’t want to use ppc because the cost per click keeps rising, and who will be left, it will be the horrible looking sites that are trying it out for short term and disappear after to give way to other horrible looking sites or lack thereof a site (landing page). I hope google cleans up their act and keep the ppc ads out of the organic listing a because that may come to bite them in their arse.

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