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Monetized search: Google achieves 100% above the fold

     
10:32 am on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Google is dropping its horizontal Carousel display of local search results for hotels. It's being replaced with a 3-pack of listings from Google Hotel Pricing ads. Thus for hotel searches, 100% of the area above the fold is now monetized. For hotel marketers Google has finally become an ad engine that also returns some search results. We knew that this day was coming. Like frogs in slowly warming water that ultimately reaches a boil we hardly noticed - [hotelmarketing.com...]
What's your take on this, in your vertical ? Does the user really care now if it's organic or paid ?
12:21 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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The user doesn't care about organic or paid. The user just cares about getting satisfied in the fastest way possible. This is just one sign of how search is evolving and changing. Just because you are making money today does not mean you will make that same money tomorrow. Even if Google had zero ads and was 100% free organic listings, users are migrating to voice search, mobile search, video search and other changes. Sometimes with voice search, the smart phone will verbally answer the search making the serps obsolete.

Some people will waste their time getting angry at Google over this change. It would be more profitable to reflect on the evolution of search and how to adapt your business.
1:08 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Does the user really care now if it's organic or paid ?


I think that some do, but enough of them don't to make it worth G's while to do this sort of thing. This is how they've been able to grow year-over-year revenues at a percentage that far exceeds the growth in traffic. (That's despite an obvious shift to mobile, where CTR is clearly lower).

They've already had 100% ads above the fold before this for some specific queries. For example, in the U.S., most flight queries are 100% ads above the fold, and have been, for quite some time:

- flights from chicago to las vegas

And, they are encroaching in other areas as well. The site below was featured in an article talking about Google's attack on organics. Try this:

- village mill bread

Not 100% above the fold, but the whole right sidebar is 100% google controlled, and they are able to push the #2 yelp listing down by putting their reviews, google+, and maps stuff in between #1 and #2. And, of course, the #4 listing is YouTube.

It's not hard to see where this is going.
3:28 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Does the user really care now if it's organic or paid ?


Some will, some won't. For most people, the usefulness of the information is likely to be what counts.

For hotel searches, the issue isn't so much whether the results are organic or paid, it's whether the results are a good fit for the user's needs. Often, users don't know what they need: For example, they may focus on price without giving much thought to location, so they end up with a room in Outer Widgetville (which is far from the sights and hard to reach from the airport).
3:37 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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In a lot of instances the user doesn't know the difference between organic and paid, they do look the same these days so have an excuse, but even before when they had shaded backgrounds etc, I was amazed by how many users didn't know the different..
4:07 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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For hotel searches, the issue isn't so much whether the results are organic or paid, it's whether the results are a good fit for the user's needs.


I suppose it all boils down to whether you feel Google's market share constitutes a monopoly, and then, how you feel about anti-trust laws.

For those on opposing sides of that issue, I don't think discussion is going to change anyone's mind.

Edit: Perhaps also, your specific feelings about deceptive trade practices would come into play...
5:29 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I suppose it all boils down to whether you feel Google's market share constitutes a monopoly, and then, how you feel about anti-trust laws.


Those are entirely separate issues from the question of whether users can tell the difference (or care about the difference) between organic and paid results.

Also, long before the advent of e-commerce or Web search, buyers were relying on Yellow Pages ads and ad sections of enthusiast or trade magazines to find goods and services. For example, the photography magazines used to have big sections of multi-page camera ads, and there was a time when a typical issue of PC MAGAZINE or COMPUTER SHOPPER carried 100 or more pages of mail-order ads. It wasn't uncommon for readers of enthusiast and trade magazines to say in surveys, "I read [name of magazine] for the ads."
6:40 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Those are entirely separate issues from the question of whether users can tell the difference (or care about the difference) between organic and paid results.


It's separate from whether they can tell the difference. If you believe, however, that Google knows they can't tell, and uses that to their advantage, it's very directly related.
8:03 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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If you want to talk about how Google conducts business and if certain laws/regulations should be enforced please head over to the Google Business/Finance section. Let's keep this conversation focused on SEO and ranking.
8:15 pm on Nov 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Let's keep this conversation focused on SEO and ranking.


The topic "Monetized search: Google achieves 100% above the fold" by definition, has nothing to do with SEO or organic ranking. If #1 is below the fold, it's still the #1 organic search result.
7:52 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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There is another aspect to the change. It's very visible on the restaurant side. It's also vivid in how different the presentation is between the US and Europe.

If you search for restaurants now in the US get the new presentation here is what you DON'T SEE with regard to the top 3 restaurants:

No link to the website
No phone number
No address
No Full Hours
No Map.

From a user perspective Google just stripped out from the top of the screen EVERY SINGLE important and relevant piece of information.

They did it purposefully. Search for local restaurants in Europe and you'll get a pack of local restaurants, a map, and each restaurant in the local results at the top has a link, an address, a phone # and of course the map.

So besides pushing all organic results below the fold, starving restaurants of traffic from google, they have put a limited # of 3 choices on top; eliminated all helpful info, and created a unique google highway of non internet traffic/ non traffic to websites.

Its a uniquely and purposefully terrible user experience.

On the money side: With the new results, with only 3 restaurants showing; with NO contact info showing at all, it clearly creates an incentive for local restaurants to advertise against one another and to advertise to protect their name.

In practice its a lot like Yelp trying to get restaurants to advertise on other restaurants pages...and to advertise so another restaurant can't advertise against you.

A terrible user experience: A deliberate move...and one that is shameful.
8:31 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Search for local restaurants in Europe and you'll get a pack of local restaurants, a map, and each restaurant in the local results at the top has a link, an address, a phone # and of course the map.


I just did a number of test searches from the U.S. For local queries such as "[city] [neighborhood] restaurants," I got a SERP with three starred restaurant links with snippets at the top (the links pointed to individual "answer box" pages) followed by the usual organic results that showed restaurant guides and such. I could click on "More restaurants" for even more listings.

As a user, I'm pretty happy with the results. They're a lot better than the restaurant search results of a few years ago, which tended to yield SERPs with skimpy results from third-rate directories.
10:01 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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As a user, I'm pretty happy with the results. They're a lot better than the restaurant search results of a few years ago, which tended to yield SERPs with skimpy results from third-rate directories.


Did you actually think about visiting one of those restaurants? Did you look for an address, a location on the map, possibly look at their website, or phone them?

Well if you tried to do any of those things most people try and do when they are actually searching trying to figure out where to dine out....you couldn't have done any of those things:

No link
No phone #
No address
No map.

What was good about the information?

Since you couldn't find any of the restaurants, did you end up dining at home? If you're in Europe you could have found all that information. In the US Google doesn't want you to have any of that info.

Strange isn't it? Google has all that info...and doesn't want you to see it. Have you asked them why?
11:03 pm on Nov 19, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Earlpearl, you obviously aren't seeing the same results as I am. (Not surprising--Google could be testing different SERP versions.)
12:21 pm on Nov 20, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Earlpearl,

I see the same thing. 3 restaurants at the top with no phone or address. Thanks for pointing this out. What happened to local results and all that Google my Business stuff that they are/were pushing so hard?
2:07 pm on Nov 20, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Google has all that info...and doesn't want you to see it. Have you asked them why?
There is a chance this is better usability. I have performed real usability tests (crazy expensive) on pages that had too much information and it overloaded the user. Sometimes having a cleaner interface is the better option even if it makes the user do an extra click.

I don't like what Google is doing but I also have a hard time seeing how this will greatly increase the incentive for restaurants to buy adwords. They always could have bought adwords.
6:46 pm on Nov 20, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I don't like what Google is doing but I also have a hard time seeing how this will greatly increase the incentive for restaurants to buy adwords. They always could have bought adwords.


From a long term business perspective generally I've seen few ads (very little adwords) from restaurateurs, versus other local verticals.

With the new look, I believe it UPs the competitive landscape.

I'm in a metro region. There are 1,000's of restaurants, dozens and up to hundreds depending on what city or community or neighborhood search one chooses, or possibly up to dozens by type (Pizza, Chinese, etc.)

The current google view highlights only 3 restaurants above the fold.

Theoretically, if I'm a restaurateur, and I'm looking at my google traffic I'll see a LOT less.

The questions are:

1. How much is that worth?
2. What do I do about it?

If I think its valuable It could spur me to advertise. I might advertise on my own business name as a defensive effort; especially if other restaurants in my neighborhood/town are doing so. I might do other type of advertising for other search
7:57 pm on Nov 20, 2014 (gmt 0)

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What happened to local results and all that Google my Business stuff that they are/were pushing so hard?

The mechanics have been discussed in more detail in another thread. In the organic serps, Google has very recently replaced local Carousel results for hotels and restaurants, and some other local enterprises, with a three pack and then a More results link. Variants of this are still apparently being tested.

For a fuller discussion of these changes, see...

Google drops some Local Carousel listings - Pigeon taking flight?
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4715406.htm [webmasterworld.com]

In that thread, I note that I too had been puzzled by the lack of phone and address information...

Perhaps worth mentioning now, that in the past several weeks, it's appeared that all local business results were often not very helpful via the Web search interface, to the point where I was wondering if Google was downgrading them. They are back now, at least via the following routes...

- the More LocalEntities link that follows the first several organic results (returned on what previously had been Carousel results)
- or via Map search in List view
- or via the "Map for LocalEntities" link in the upper right of the Web search page.

It's likely that there are other paths to them as well....

The changes are fairly elaborate and still being tested... and it's probably best to focus discussion of the mechanics of those Local changes to that thread, with monetization probably more relevant to this one.
9:00 pm on Nov 20, 2014 (gmt 0)

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@ Robert: I think the presentation changes and the monetization efforts by Google sort of go hand in hand. Clearly my opinion on the issue.

While dropping the carousel impacted several verticals I'm going to limit my comments to the restaurant side. I interact with restaurant operators on a variety of levels.

On a comparative basis search for hotels in your region and restaurants. The hotel vertical is well monetized on the search side. The restaurant industry isn't. I don't see tons of ads (adwords) in the restaurant industry in any market in the US.

I also think its been difficult for restaurants to value or put a money value to pure search traffic. How many visits to a site result in a visit. Is it the same people who found a restaurant via search? Is a search on google more valuable than a search via yelp with all its reviews? Does search have the value of commentary by food critics in every market and food bloggers etc.

Difficult to ascertain from a restaurant perspective. Those I know that paid attention to google search before google removed keywords are aware of the kind of traffic they might have gotten for search terms by location (city,neighborhood, town),and by type of menu (Chinese, American, Italian, Seafood, etc) and combinations of geo and type.

But still its been difficult for them to evaluate as to worth, how many web visits does it take to turn into a meal, etc.

For those that take reservations, OpenTable is easy to evaluate. Have a reservation for 4; you know who the quartet and you know what they spent. That is very clear. Search traffic is murkier and less quantifiable.

Its possibly because of a mass of that kind of thinking that the vast restaurant business simply hasn't advertised a lot. Nationals do. Locals scarcely.

The National Restaurant Association in its latest edition claims that over $680 billion is spent in restaurants in the US. Other statistical sources claim less. Regardless Google gets very very little of that in advertising revenues.

Alternatively it has a big big piece of hotel advertising and more from the OTA's (On Line Travel Agents) bookings on the top of a search page.

So on the restaurant side I see these changes as a way to get restaurants to start "forking up" (sorry for the pun--;) )

Now the above the fold result has room for just 3 restaurants and ads. That is it.

This is where I think the presentation info and the monetization info overlap.

The 3 restaurants have NO CONTACT INFO of any sort:
No link
No phone number
No Address
No Map

A searcher isn't getting to one of the 3 or any restaurant website without any further clicking. They aren't calling, making reservations, visiting the site, etc. No connection between searcher and restaurant. NONE.

ADS will give the restaurateurs in the neighborhood that connection!

If the Charlton Pasta and Pizza Palace is in the same neighborhood as the EarlPearl Pasta and Pizza Place, and the Charlton restaurant is in the top 3 and the EarlPearl place isn't, I've got incentive to advertise. I'll advertise for pasta searches, Italian restaurant searches and pizza searches. I'll probably advertise against name searches for the 3 restaurants that are visible in the local PAC since they get ALL the above the fold screen real estate.

If a user clicks on the Charlton Pasta and Pizza Palace and a big, Overwhelming Knowledge Panel shows with contact info for your place...MY AD will be there. One click for the user to get all my info. Simple.

If the EarlPearl Pasta and Pizza Place is running ads directly against the locally well-optimized Charlton Pasta and Pizza Palace...you might decide to defensively advertise....just to keep customers from gorging on my food.

I think some of that will occur. Its really not unlike how Yelp operates and sells ads. Its just more subtle. But that thinking is already ingrained in restaurateurs via years of Yelp marketing and sales...and if the restaurateurs don't leap to that conclusion....marketers will help them get there.

Aside from the new presentation taking up all the screen above the fold real estate...its the presentation..or lack of contact data of any sort that will starve restaurants of any form of search via google traffic or leads or calls. Its so dramatically deliberate.

Finally do a google.co.uk search for restaurants in any city or town in Great Britain. The presentation is so incredibly different.

Lots and lots of contact, address, and mapping information. Its really what consumers want. It doesn't help me to get the street name of a restaurant. I want the address. Give me a break.

According to the National Restaurant Association there are almost 1 million restaurants in the US. I think an incredibly tiny percentage of them currently use adwords. I think this will push up that usage rate.
9:09 pm on Nov 20, 2014 (gmt 0)

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@earlpearl..
Restaurant advertising is not my field..but an extremely interesting and informative post..Thank you :)