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.