Can Organic Cannibalization Actually Be A Good Thing?

The new look and feel of Google's search results pages has received mixed reviews from paid search advertisers; however, the search results pages as a whole are giving more prominence to paid search real estate through ad enhancements that I covered in a previous post

Take this results page for flowers from February 2010 as an example.  There are no plus boxes or site links, just a standard search results page with three paid ads at the top and more along the right.  Now, flash-forward five months.  The search results page for the same query has plus boxes, site links and additional search options.  In less than five months, organic listings have been reduced from five above the fold, to three. 



Now, let's take a step back to Google's core philosophy:  Focus on the user and all else will follow

As someone who specializes in paid search advertising, I have to ask, "Are paid search results delivering a better user experience?"  I am not posing this question to devalue organic optimization, but simply to play devil's advocate on Google's behalf.  You see, I can only come up with two answers.  Either paid search does a better job of focusing on the user, which is not the answer I am advocating; or, this is about money.  Google revenues cannot plateau, but Internet usage can.

Let's take another look at the search result page for flowers today, but let's expand the plus boxes this time.  What do you notice?  We no longer have a single organic listing above the fold of the page.  I find this mind-blowing.

I am calling on readers today to share what you are seeing.  Are you experiencing any decline in organic performance?  Are you participating in any enhanced ad formats?  Are you angry or happy?  Please denote your specialty as paid or organic if you share your sentiment.

I can share what I am seeing across my client base.  With every plus box we add, click rates improve on paid search ads; however, the synergy of paid and organic traffic is under more scrutiny than ever.  In fact, my takeaway is that, yes, paid search is stealing from organic. 

There is a huge caveat to this statement however. if you don't cannibalize your own organic traffic, your competitors will.  In the flowers example, the top-five-ranking paid-search advertisers all have product plus boxes and the top three have site links, including FTD: the number-one ranking organic listing.

3 comments about "Can Organic Cannibalization Actually Be A Good Thing? ".
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  1. Barb Chamberlain from Washington State University Spokane, July 2, 2010 at 12:58 p.m.

    Another point that struck me in the comparison of the two search results: The color difference that marks the paid results is much more subtle, at least on my screen.

    What was formerly a relatively noticeable yellow (with a hint of implied Yellow Pages) is now a pale pink. This further serves to downplay the difference between paid placements and organic results.

    I'm not an SEO expert of either type but this is a very helpful commentary as we work to understand and improve our search results.

    A question for the future--as they incorporate more social results how will they balance the perceived value to the user of seeing results from within our social graph vs. the value to advertisers of paid results? It will be interesting to watch as that plays out.

    Director of Communications and Public Affairs
    Washington State University Spokane

  2. Marie Weber from Marie Weber, July 2, 2010 at 1:13 p.m.

    I love the part where it says "Google revenues cannot plateau, but Internet usage can."

    Overall, I would say that organic listings are still going to be a help in service industries where plus boxes are not taking up as much real estate on the search result pages.

  3. Jason Smith, July 6, 2010 at 12:24 p.m.

    The thinking here by the author is relatively flawed.

    First, she didn't note that the "expanded plus boxes" show up only for e-commerce products. This feature is applicable to less than 5% of searches conducted online and impacts very few Advertisers.

    Second, she doesn't seem to understand the business principle behind Google's decision. Currently, the old "Froogle" product comparison system is an absolute dead dog failure. Universal search is about the only way people interact. Now that Google Checkout has been declared a failure, they have moved on to utilize the same search results to encourage Advertisers to list their products. Its nothing more than a hail mary to save Froogle. If beta test results were any good, they would have released this back in 2007 rather than wait 3 years to release it.

    Finally, the author seems to not understand consumer behavior interaction. If a user interacts with paid listings, they are at a different point in their consideration than if they are interacting with organic how. Thinking that clicking on a expandable plus sign will have a negative impact on user interaction with organic listing is a poor conclusion.

    What truly needs to be evaluated, for which the author totally missed, is the impact the expandable buttons will have on quality score and Advertiser conversion rate. If users aren't clicking on the paid search ad and instead are clicking on product links, will your conversion rate be commensurate? Is a product-level page really where you want to drop somebody searching on the word "flowers" if you are FTD? Does a person expanding on your products see 5 products that don't peak their interest and deter clicking, thus impacting quality score and your CPC paid? Was it the sixth item that would have delivered the click given it was more relevant than the previous five?

    Needless to say, last thing I am worried about for my clients is the impact these expandable units will have on organic search results. Someone expanding and collapsing product units simply isn't that "mindblowing" to me and has a very limited likelihood to impact organic search interaction.

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