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Google "Head End" Search Results: Ads as Content, Or…Just Ads?

By - March 30, 2011

GoogHeadEndSearchAdEditRatioBattelleMedia.png

Today I spoke at Sony HQ in front of some Pretty Important Folks, so I wanted to be smart about Sony’s offerings lest anything obviously uninformed slip out of my mouth. To prepare I did a bunch of Google searches around Sony and its various products.

Many of these searches are what I call “head end” searches – a lot of folks are searching for the terms I put in, and they are doubly important to Google (and its advertising partners) because they are also very commercial in nature (not in my case, but in general.) Usually folks searching for “Sony Tablets” have some intent to purchase tablets in the near future, or at the very least are somewhere in what’s called the “purchase funnel.”

I was struck with the results, so much so I took a screen shot of one representative set of results. In traditional print, we used to watch a metric called “Ad Edit Ratio” very closely (as did the government, for reasons of calculating postal rates). Editors at publications lobbied for low ad edit ratios (so they’d get more space to put their content, naturally). Advertising executives lobbied for higher Ad Edit ratios (so they could sell more ads, of course). We usually settled somewhere around 50-50 – half ads, half editorial.

Google is way lower than that, on any given search. But not for head end searches. In fact, as a percentage of actual “editorial” (organic search results) versus “paid”, it’s pushing towards 35/65 or more, at least when you measure the space “above the fold” on a typical screen.

Then again, in the case of AdWords, one could argue the ads are contextually relevant and useful.

Just felt worth pointing out, if for no other reason as to add a page to the historical record of how the service is evolving. Once “media” adwords start taking over, this picture may well change again, and it might not be a change that folks like much.

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14 thoughts on “Google "Head End" Search Results: Ads as Content, Or…Just Ads?

  1. Jeremy Brown says:

    “Above the fold” is a key distinction.

    There is a lot of organic content (i.e. – not paid) further down the SERPs.

  2. Gytis says:

    Actually the search results that I got on Sony Tablets looked a much more minimalistic (speaking about advertisements).

    Google is trying to push different ads strategies in different markets.

  3. These ads slightly give the lie to Google’s contention that its ads are just as useful as the search content. If you are searching for a Sony tablet, competitor ads are likely less useful than content about Sony tablets. Yes, you could argue that you might not have thought of an Asus so an ad from them is useful, but that’s a pretty flimsy argument.

  4. tizio says:

    Also consider that google added ads at bottom of messages in gmail.
    Not inside the message, just below it.

    That one is even more annoying.
    I’m really considering to use something to remove the most annoying ads… but you know… if you have to use an addon in FF to remove some, at that point you risk to remove every ad.

  5. Seo says:

    When you take an “above the fold” perspective, you are correct, it has a 65/35 split with 65 appearing to be paid and 35 organic. Just think, that if Google added one more line to the top ads, that ratio would quickly become 80/20. I am sure Google has thought about it to try and generate more revenue. If they did, I wonder how that would affect their users, (i.e. send them running) and the traffic that companies depend on from Search Engine Optimization.

  6. Funny – I did exactly this analysis 5 years ago, and at that point, Ask.com had the 65/35 split and Google was the good actor (Bing and Yahoo! were in the middle):

    http://startupboy.com/2005/12/20/fix-the-search-interface-first/

  7. selly says:

    adword to selly in marketing online with keyword in adwords google, check http://sellyyustiawati.blogspot.com/search/label/Opini%20Publik

  8. aramasa says:

    f you are searching for a Sony tablet, competitor ads are likely less useful than content about Sony tablets. Yes, you could argue that you might not have thought of an Asus so an ad from them is useful, but that’s a pretty flimsy argument.

  9. Rob says:

    Tried it with a few commercial searches in the UK and noticed nearly the same kind of AD heave above the fold search results. Not sure where several of the comments are but the points they are making seem to miss the point of this article.

    The lesson here is if you want to appear above the fold on page one crack open your piggy bank because Google sells to the highest bidder. If this proves to be true we can forget about relevancy and quality in our search results. Let’s hope this is, as one commenter indicated, the result of Google testing and playing and not an indication of things to come.

    You can see how, with all the playing, and the stated goal of getting people to come to the site, click and go to the destination within a few seconds, Google may be trying to ‘educate’ users to click on the first link that looks good, and if that first link happens to be a google ad, so much the better… and if playing with the layout triggers an increase in clicks on paid ads, better still… I am just thinking about how things could go if google were not concerned with quality and relevancy. But they are. We have seen the results of the recent changes to dump spammy sites from the SERPs.

    Thanks for the article.

  10. barmas says:

    I am just thinking about how things could go if google were not concerned with quality and relevancy. But they are. We have seen the results of the recent changes to dump spammy sites from the SERPs.

  11. vermasi says:

    Also consider that google added ads at bottom of messages in gmail.
    Not inside the message, just below it. vexa

  12. JG says:

    Google corporate philosophy in 2009, under the category “You can make money without doing evil:”

    http://replay.waybackmachine.org/20090315200643/http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html

    “However, you may have never seen an ad on Google.”

    Google corporate philosophy in 2011, under the category “You can make money without doing evil”:

    http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html

    That phrase is conspicuously missing.

    Q.E.D.

  13. Don Calendar says:

    Google is probably the only company that has kept its integrity when it comes to adsense!

  14. Sapta says:

    I think display ads on search results is different for some territory in the world, since it provides features for adword ads geographic target.
    By my opinion, Google’s ad display a lot or a little, it really depends on the number of keyword advertisers to place ads and for certain regions.