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No. 1525
June 5th, 2012

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It Really Is a Google World and We Are All Just Living in It

Aaron Wall has been writing similar posts for years.  But in pulling a couple of screenshots for Local University Advanced on Thursday, this one for “pizza” really struck me.

This is what that result shows above the fold on a 1024×768 monitor:

For those who missed the subtlety:

(Among other things, note the additional, completely unrelated Google Offer underneath the map.)

In all honesty this post is not meant to pass judgment on Google one way or another.  I’ll leave it to the Senate Commerce Committee to decide whether this is their reward for building an amazing technology or an abuse of their position as the market leader.  But as a purely practical matter, if you’re not doing a serious Adwords campaign OR competing in Local, you’ve basically got two organic slots that might draw searchers’ attention.  Those of us practicing organic optimization should probably bone up on Adwords as a defensible future skillset.

Update 8:45pm PT: Mike Pantoliano (@MikeCP) came across this screenshot of the same SERP in 2008.

  • Awesome picture. You explained in one image what usually takes me much longer in words to explain to others.

  • Wow – the visualization here really puts it in perspective. Certainly a bit alarming for those of us living in the organic world.

  • Looks like Yahoo’s SERP always did – relevant results pushed down below the fold. I feel like we’re at a point where competition between digital advertising giants like Google and Facebook is focusing less on the user experience and too much on how to monetize the eyeballs that they’ve collected through innovation.

  • Used to be, David…that we mapped the first 3 pages for our Client serp rankings – i.e. the top 30 results…

    But as you show now, it’s the top 2 only that get any type of engagement….sigh….above the fold.

    That said….I still hate PPC….organic is what we sell and work hard at…..just hope the Client’s never see this post!



  • (saw this in google+) (he says with shame)

    Very telling picture. So interesting vis a vis google’s newish analytics tool that shows “above the fold” visibility of your web pages. Actually first time I saw that title from analytics I was hoping it would take the approach you took– ie the google search page….than the information they are highlighting. (above the fold on your own pages).

    Wow!!! The Pizza Hut Ad just kills and dominates. I frankly haven’t seen a lot of those with so much depth and control of the critical page RE….but that one simply dominates.

    I read the Aaron Wall post you cited and have read similar such articles by him, pointing out that in your words “its google’s world” I agree.

    Here is a different little Google trick I’ve noticed over time. I believe its been under reported.

    I run a lot of aggressive, comprehensive ppc campaigns in google on regional bases for local smbs. Most of them are combinations of exact phrase [ ] terms and broad phrase terms. Over time I analyse the results and convert more active broad phrase terms to exact phrase. In the aggregate the broad phrase terms cover the myriad of long tail search terms. I get those organically and via adwords.

    The interesting evolution has been with broad phrase terms. In all those accounts there has been 1 or 2 broad phrase terms wherein the impressions have skyrocketed over time. The volume of times Google shows those ads as impressions have increased 2, 3, 4, and 5 times as often as a couple of years ago. Its amazing.

    There is a “keywords details” tab under the graph. Click on that and it shows combinations of all your keywords. Select just the broad phrase keywords….and the details will show the variations of keywords for which your ads are showing. (the long tail phrases)

    Anyway when you dig deep, what I’ve found are increasing impressions where google doesn’t give detail….just aggregates the total and shows a total number of clicks /total impressions/total cost.

    At that level that remainder total has abysmally low click through rates. But alternatively it is shown thousands and thousands of times. Fascinating is that each year over the last several years….these ads are shown ever ever more. Its the untold story on how google is showing your ads “everywhere”

    So what gives? Frankly, all of my ads showing for probably irrelevant search queries aren’t costing me money. Virtually nobody is clicking on them. On the other hand those ads push up the bid prices on whose ever relevant ads do show. Google is spreading my ads around in irrelevant areas…and in so doing pushing up the bid prices on ads that do get clicked.

    Ahhh…but it does effect me. I see greater volumes of irrelevant ads showing on search queries that do affect our smbs. Probably they get the same miserable click throughs that my ads get when they are pushed around into irrelevant categories.

    But those bid prices ultimately push up my prices when people do click on my ads. Its slick. It makes google more money. Its under reported.

    It is google’s world!!!

  • Dave,
    Astute observation re: the effect of increased broad match display. The other thing it does is for businesses for whom those keywords ARE relevant, it pushes their organic listings further down the page and prods THEM into Adwords. My sense is that as soon as those phrases become saturated with advertisers for whom those are relevant keywords, your ads will probably stop showing on them?

  • Well, who really owns those pixels?

  • Clients need (and often want) both organic and paid search. It doesn’t make sense in today’s world to specialize in one or the other, either for you as the service provider or for the client who wants to buy a turnkey solution that will increase their web traffic, conversions and sales. Google, Bing, Yahoo, Social, paid, non-paid all play a role in meeting those objectives.

  • David: I think the scenario I described will continue to operate under the radar screen unless and until someone exposes it vividly. Looks to me like a great way for google to subtly increase revenues.

    Checked one account for May impressions for 2010, 2011, 2012.

    Astounding changes with regard to the expansion of the surreptitious broad phrase exposure.

    impressions for that surreptitious broad phrase were roughly 1600 in the first, year, 2700 in the second year and 7500 this year!!!!! When you drill down into detail on the impressions for the broad phrase…google only gives us data on portions of the impression totals. Then the bulk of it must be showing for totally irrelevant phrases. (and our ctr for the detail they don’t show us…is incredibly LOW!!)

    No other aspects of impressions on any other exact phrase or broad phrase have grown at such an enormous rate. Its not an increase in demand for the service. Its an increase of display of the ads into other categories.

    One big caveat. On the examples where I’ve seen this, the smbs are aggressive on price bids. Possibly if the underlying bids were lower they wouldn’t be attractive to google to spread elsewhere.

    I have a different philosophy and MO than Jim whose comments are above. When we look at the page you show with the volume of page real estate that is showing…we would like to be Pizza Hut in the ad, dominoes on the organic side (SERP=1)…and frankly I’d like to have a one map on the picture on the right. We don’t hit that very often!! 😉

  • Will

    You should compare screen shots of the search results for “pizza” on other search engines such bing, yahoo, and duckduckgo.

    Bing has the least amount of crud above the fold. Duckduckgo has crud above the fold, but it’s informative crud instead of junky crud.

  • Foo

    Why exactly is the map in the “Google” section? It seems that the map is a valid returned result from Google Maps.

  • Terry

    “Why this ad?”
    “Why these ads?”

    Good questions

  • Jon

    Why does anybody have a problem with this? The results are directly related to what the user searched for, it’s just the advertisements from the same people who would have come up anyhow.

  • Here’s my seven-year old look at the same issue. The differences are striking:

  • Scott

    This is the second time I’ve seen someone do a spatial analysis of Google’s recent search results, and both have shown “real” results getting increasingly short shrift. However, I don’t know about everyone else here, but I’m mentally conditioned to scroll or PgDn past the yellow. The same way I don’t read popup ads on youtube before clicking the X. To me, the mystery lies more with “who is actually paying attention to these ads, and buying stuff from them?” rather than “How will people notice the non-ads?”

    Naval: Wow, very good time capsule there. Makes me wonder if corporate maturity is synonymous with increasing the suck, or if there is “another way”. Or perhaps certain suckage is inevitable and execution in other areas is more important in the long run. I don’t think Yahoo failed due to ads, but maybe I’m wrong.

  • Scott

    Jon: People have a problem with it, because yellow ads are ranked by how much companies pay, whereas “the white” results are ranked by objective relevancy (or internet popularity, depending on how you interpret Google’s PageRank). Obviously, they’re not insidiously sneaking paid ads into relevancy results (as far as we know). Thus, that’s not a complaint. Ads are clearly marked as such. Thus, the only complaint with merit, I think, is that the predominance of ad-related real estate is either annoying or misleading, depending on how knowledgeable/gullible you are.

    Foo: I think the map is included in the red because this was a Google web search, not a Google maps search. The map is an enticement to click on yet another Google page (with more ads), versus directing you to your actual search target as efficiently as possible. Google is doing the same thing with G+: incorporating legitimate G+ searches into your web search results–most people don’t care for that, because they don’t use G+. Likewise, someone who prefers Bing for maps but thinks Google’s web searches are better probably isn’t happy to see their clean results littered by other Google stuff they don’t want.

  • Honkon

    Excellent post, but you’ve picked a resolution falling into disuse.

    A quick Google shows (on my 2560 x 1440 monitor) that 85% of visitors to (just as an example) are seeing it at a resolution higher than 1024 x 768.

    This is like saying the task bar in Windows 7 takes up too much space on my 640×480 screen.

  • Random Guy

    Google is an advertisement engine. People use Google to see advertisements about the things they’re interested in.

  • “But as a purely practical matter, if you’re not doing a serious Adwords campaign OR competing in Local, you’ve basically got two organic slots that might draw searchers’ attention. ”

    Well…that’s true unless the users figure out how to scroll the page to see the results. [/sarcasm]

  • I think the above/below the fold issue is old news. This post provides some helpful insights into this new thinking: This, combined with the fact that most users avoid clicking on Ads suggest that there’s little cause for concern IMO.

  • George girton

    Good post. Good points found well below the fold, tho — a) this res is obsolete & b) there is no fold c) changes in results distribution

  • Michael W.
  • Rodney

    There’s also this….

  • pedant

    As Michael W points out, when you “search for pizza”, Google is assuming you want to buy some and of course it gives priorities to vendors.

    If you even tried “about pizza” as a search term, you got a much less biased result set.

    Fundamentally, people need to understand that Google is like the shopkeeper who latches on to the words in your query that they understand. Blurting out “pizza” with no other context is always going to assume you want to eat, not that you want the history of how Chicago cooking came to be mistaken for Italian.

  • pedant

    Grrr – damn you html. My comment lost the

    <insert ethnicity whose language you don’t understand> in front of “shopkeeper”

  • sfosparky

    Which is why my default search engine has become Duck Duck Go…

  • Great post but should we be suprised? Google is a publicly traded company required to grow or lose market share. That said Michael W makes a great point: the long tail is still highly relevant for SEO and Google has been saying the same for a while as well. Focus on creating great original content and users will find you. If you need to show up for buying terms and want to compete then you are gonna need to pay the piper.

  • Walt French

    I’ve never seen fit to ask Google for “pizza,” but it seems likely that the results shown here are just about perfectly what people would want, when they do.

    Maybe different for “flowers,” where brand-names mean so much less. I should get some flowers. Yes, the results aren’t 100% FTD or 1-800-Flowers; actual local shops, even tho heavily tilted towards places that are much more commercial than the places I go.

    “The business of America is business.” It’s hardly surprising that when you ask about a product that is almost 100% commercial, you get commercial results.

    If you want to know about “quantitative easing,” you get information sites, including those charming Taiwanese talking-animal videos. No sponsored results promoted to the top, AFAICT.

  • Koki

    My result for searching pizza: (I am not in US).

  • Matt

    Who the hell queries Google for “pizza” ??? What’s the point ?
    If you want to eat pizza that’s the results you want: map of a pizza place near you ? Pizza vendors ?
    If you want other results, say so in your query.
    The algorithm at Google can’t guess that you want something if you don’t tell it. Computers are as dumb as their users.

  • Dave Power

    Not exactly fair. The page ‘fold’ doesn’t really exist. We are conditioned to scroll. There’s plenty of research on this. Just google ‘the myth of the page fold’.
    I’m not a googler.

  • I get a quite different result:

    Only one paid ad, three organic results (one of which is Wikipedia). The map is a bit useless though, given I live 20 miles west of Bolton.

    @Honkon: “85% of visitors to … are seeing it at a resolution higher than 1024 x 768”

    I’d say that’s probably not representative of the web as a whole – people visiting w3schools are, I’d guess, likely to be using better equipment than your average person.

    And although 1024 × 768 isn’t as common as it once was, there are plenty of 1366 × 768 and 1280 × 800 screens out there.

  • Alex

    The number of posts defending Google is absolutely astounding. Apparently some people feel that just because Google has a reason to dramatically decrease the quality of their product from the user’s point of view, ie increased revenue, it somehow makes it OK. We know WHY Google is doing this, that’s not the point of interest, it’s the fact they’re doing it at all.
    It makes it that much more disappointing coming from a company that famously touted “don’t be evil” as it’s mantra.

  • Justin

    Was hoping you’d end this post with…..Which is kinda what they want!

    Essentially a monopoly. public company with a war chest that size…god help us!

  • Paul

    I don’t know why the map is marked as “google”, since that’s most likely what I want if I am searching for “pizza”. Also the left sidebar and the top search box allow me to refine my search rather than make money for Google, so those should be green. And the personal results, while useless, aren’t making money for Google either.

  • DRoss

    Adblock Plus to the rescue. I haven’t seen an ad on google since.

  • Richard

    For fairness you should also show the results when you opt out of personalized ads (or show what the results look like for an anonymous user)

  • Mike

    I think that Joy of Tech said it best with this comic.

  • Jef

    How dare they put ads on their free service! Surely it’s only Google doing this. Couldn’t be standard practice for the market or anything…

    For comparison:

  • Emory Rowland

    Imagine if someone created a search engine that returned a list of 10 results.

  • David W.

    Those who say Google is turning into another Microsoft are simply wrong. They’re turning into another Yahoo.

  • Safari users can download a free extension called User CSS to make the yellow ad area go away. After the extension is installed, right-click on the results page, select “Manage User CSS” and create a new CSS called Google. Enter “http://**” for the URL and “#tads { display: none !important; }” for Styles. Save it and regain a big chunk of your google results page. (I have no connection to User CSS.)

  • Agree with DRoss re: AdBlock. I’ve had it since forever; sometimes I forget Google has ads. I’ll start complaining the minute Google blocks AdBlock.

  • jrock

    my results (hartford, ct) are completely different. one paid ad (domino’s) and then a list of 5 local (non-chain) pizza places with contact information and locations mapped. no unrelated search result under the map. not trying to undermine your article here. just thought i’d share my experience.

  • David W.

    Yeah. Why all the criticisms of Google. They’re the greatest, smartest, bestest company in the WHOLE World!

    You’d think people expect their search results to still look like this?

  • valkraider

    My mouse has a scroll wheel, my iPhone and iPad can both scroll with a flick of the finger, and even my Wii and smart TV automagically start scrolling.

    There is nothing to see here. Please move along.

    If all you PPC optimizer types really think your customer’s customers are too stupid to scroll down a few pixels then I feel sorry for your customers. Even my 80 year old father on a WebTV over dial-up (seriously, he still uses it) can scroll down.

    Also – a side note – I find it funny that people who charge companies to get eyeballs on their sites are complaining that Google charges customers to get eyeballs on their sites. Why is it OK for you guys to make money helping customers get busines – but Google is a bad guy making money for helping customers get business.

    From the screenshot – I imagine if I wanted Pizza I could very easily click on the first advertisement which is for “Pizza Hut” who not only sell pizza, they have Pizza in their name. Seems like a relevant result to me. And if I am a pizza snob, I can move my eyeballs a couple centimeters down and see the third ad is actually for a Local non-chain pizza place (I am in PDX metro as well).

    The map is relevant. The ads are relevant. Others have pointed out the left side and along the top are there to help you tailor your search. That leaves only that one single thing at the bottom right which is not relevant…

  • jimLongo

    What’s astounding to me that Portland has such a limited supply of pizza!
    Toronto results show about 100 pizza joints on the map.
    One paid ad for pizza hut, followed by organic results for pizzaPizza and then Wikipedia.

    Frankly I’m more concerned with google pushing up the bid prices on my ads by inserting

  • mullingitover

    So this is what it’s like to run around the internet without adblock, like a savage.

  • JacksonB

    The main reason I use Same non-google search results without all the Googleware.

  • AndrewFromPortland

    Beaverton != Portland – it’s a large suburb requiring a modest drive on the highway from here.

    But comparing even Portland itself to Toronto makes no sense, considering Toronto has five times the population of Portland. You want to pick on a West Coast city, Mr. Toronto? Try Los Angeles – see how you like that.

    Leave us Portlanders crying in our Sizzle Pie and nursing our Stumptown Coffee.

  • Google in 2008 and 2001: Was not that much better in 2008…
    The search was for a dutch keyword that I think translates to “savings”

  • Dave Oremland

    I run adwords for smbs and do the seo. Frankly when google expands control of the Real estate of the web page…they do get a higher % of clicks on ads. They make some more money. If I have top ranked organic results/ #1 placement in ads and a highly top ranked maps/pac result….if google expands the ADwords part of the Real estate of the page or highlights the ads with STARS….more clicks gravitate that way. Google ends up making more money. From our perspective the issue is where do we spend our time most effectively…seo or adwords or maps, or whatever.

    I spent time in a foodie forum. There were some terrific threads on pizza. Some about best pizzas…some about the worst pizza. There are millions of people looking for pizza. They look for it for a million reasons. If I have kids they can’t tell the difference between good and bad pizza. In fact they pretty much prefer the bad. If I’m searching for a nearby pizza and a big ad for dominoes pops up and its close and the phone number is there…hell yeah I might just call that number and order up a pizza for delivery. Saves me time and energy. Frankly dominoes couldn’t be happier that I clicked on their ad…and google couldn’t be happier either. But if I’m one of the local artisan pizza places showing in google in the pac below the ads…and maybe below the fold….well damn….I just lost a potential customer to big spending dominoes.

  • deleyo

    WHO HAS A 1024X786 MONITORY ANYMORE? The last time I had a 1024×768 display resolution was circa 1997

    Same test on my 13″ macbook pro at whatever resolution yielded about a 40% google 60% organic result

  • elle

    Not sure if anyone else wrote this, but you didn’t take it off personal results !

  • shvlzz

    The analysis is somewhat incorrect.

    The red “GOOGLE” area should be the whole screen, since the browser is Chrome.

  • Well it is in their interest to show as much of their own ‘property’ as possible and obviously they are in a business of monetizing on their traffic and users…

    It will be interesting to see what Google leaves for us, entrepreneurs that have been smart enough to cash in on organic traffic so far.

    My 27 inch iMac gives me more organic result though 😀

  • Trevor

    I’m assuming most people here (including the author) are savvy enough to use adblock plus? This is the page you get with it

    I get 10 (non-google) search results.

  • asdasd

    Time to buy a better video card + monitor.

  • Daniel

    This has been said a thousand times, but here it goes again: Google is a business, and they want to make money (shocking, I know).

    Moreover, look at the first screenshot. You are in, so of course the page is owned by Google. If you go to, CNN owns the page and puts in that page whatever they want to. And I don’t see you critizicing that.

    Do you want no ads? Do not click on them. Google makes 97% of its revenue from those ads. If no one clicked on them, they would disappear.

    “Well, duh, but everybody else DOES click on those ads, so Google is not going anywhere”.

    Fine, then. Don’t use Google. Nobody’s forcing you to do so.

    “Oh, but wait! Google’s a nice search engine! I do not want to stop using it!”

    Perfect. You want to use Google’s search service? Then pay the price for that service and see the page however Google sees fit.

    Google is not a public service. Its ubiquity might make a lot of people inclined to think so, but Google is a private property. If you do not like the service a company offers, do not use that service. Eventually, that company will have to change their model or go bankrupt, as every other company in the world.

    So, why are you still using Google, again?

    OR, as valkraider said a few comments before, if you do not deem the paid results relevant, use the scroll wheel in your mouse!

  • Dave Oremland

    Had to add one other observation:

    I searched on the word pizza changing locations quite a bit. I did DC and about 12 different suburban locations around the city in both md and va….both close in suburbs and further out. I repeated the search in Baltimore and did the search in a lot of suburban towns nearby. Finally I did the search in a variety of towns throughout suburban NJ.

    Pizza Hut, Dominoes and Papa Johns have negotiated a virtual lock on all advertising. I saw two other variations on ads. One for bertucci’s which is a regional chain…and one for some book about learning to cook pizza. Not a single pizza place, local restaurant had an ad. NOT ONE. The three chains have a lock on advertising for the major industry term without using geo modifiers.

    I had to drill down to a search phrase with a geo modifier to see an ad with anyone other than the major chains:

    One really doesn’t know the usage patterns of searchers unless one uses adwords with impressions. Do more people search with or without geo modifiers. Do experienced searchers realize that google is using personalization and localization…so they don’t need to put in their town, city, or zip code name??? Don’t know.

    As it is, though, not only has google expanded its visibility above the fold, but its tied that to a limited world of advertisers in the case of pizza.

    Winners= Big companies: Losers=Small companies

  • Tim

    So people are shocked that Google, an advertising company, are putting advertising into their search engine? Shocking.

    Google’s not a damn charity here people.

  • These types of observations do demonstrate, in my opinion, that Google is getting farther and farther away from the ideal of providing great, unbiased results for a lot of queries. However, it’s important to remember that many Google users are pretty savvy, and as much as they try to make em blend in, tons of users are still blind to all of these Google ads and they go straight to the organic listings.

    Anecdotally, this is certainly what I see when my clients have both great organic listings and paid listings. They still get the vast majority of traffic from the organic listings.

    Lots of people know these are ads and they don’t trust them as much as organic results. If Google keeps shoving it down our throats they are just going to keep annoying people and eventually (perhaps) risk losing some marketshare. But as an organic SEO I don’t think there is much reason to worry excessively just yet – people are still pretty good at finding the organic listings!

  • Google is a corporation which aims to make money. That’s why have to go into as many verticals as possible.

    I think the pizza example is not so good as google interprets it as “I want to get some pizza [and I am located in portland]”. So they deliver what they think is relevant. Imo this fits here pretty well.

    All that “don’t be evil”-stuff has been gone for a while. They still deliver really good results in most cases. Especially if you are a brand. We will see change to “bought search results” more and more as more and more fields are getting competitive. I think this is inevitable.

  • Matt Cutts

    I’m Matt Cutts, a senior Google engineer and head of web spam. I would like to clear a few misconceptions about ads and content. At Google if the ads were not better than links we would not post so many ads. We are in for the long term and would never squander the trust users put on us. Before any change we debate these changes in a free flowing content and only decide the changes if it’s better for users. Trust us, we’re a different kind of company.

  • Matt Cutts – I feel you need to be reminded that the reason that Google is one of the largest companies in the world is because of the green section of the screenshot shown.

    The red section is a luxury you are allowed only because your success brings monopolistic opportunities – if you’d started out from that point, nobody would be using your services.

    Be careful out there.

  • Matt Cutts

    @Ronald Stewart
    This is our search engine and rankings are opinions (see SearchKing and KinderStart case) so if we think that ads are better we’ll put ads. If we think that adwords advertisers deserve to rank higher, we’ll place them higher, as we did with Panda and Vince updates.

    Threatening us will not lead to anything, users already have many choices.

  • Wouldn’t be great if someone could do a history of Google Places based on one search term over the years.

    I started it on a blog, but don’t have enough time or screen shots to do the best job.

  • Sol

    Winners= Big companies: Losers=Small companies

    Good point – however, you’re forgetting that a lot of people will happily avoid the big companies anyway.
    Many consumers prefer to buy from small businesses for a wide variety of reasons – higher level of service being one.

    I for one avoid the big business ads like the plague (or if I really don’t like the company, click on them anyway so that they have to pay for the click!)

  • the keyword “pizza” is also not google, so there is a little green square on top 🙂

  • As they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
    Top slots are still available for small companies, but for very few industries and they are less in numbers by the day.

  • DMA

    In the above example, I’m not sure if Extreme Pizza is a ‘better’ search result than Papa Johns. Extreme Pizza is in the paid ads while Papa Johns is in the 2nd spot of the organic search. ?