Google tests show: Google planning on killing organic all together?

The launch of Google Instant last week was received by the industry as being one of the biggest changes Google had made so far. Some proclaimed the death of SEO, others believed it was a change which would affect PPC the most. But now the first ‘storm’ has died down, there is more to worry about. Some ‘tests’ which were caught in the wild might suggest Google is getting ready for much more changes with a lot bigger impact.

Lets take a look at a few (possible) changes we might be seeing with Google and the impact that could have: a fourth ad on top of the search results and fewer organic search results in the pages all together.

Not three but four ads above the results

A first change was reported by Searchengineland after a tip from @RoDr1g0 almost two weeks ago. Google was apparently testing out putting a fourth ad on top of search results. It was a test done in the US on the search term “mortgage rates” but was later also spotted in the UK by @robkerry on the term “compare credit cards”:

Until now we only have three paid results on top of the organic results. The fourth ad is a novelty. Google responded to the findings by saying that for now its just a test (if you do a search now you probably won’t find them) but the simple fact that Google bothered to respond to this means they are serious about this.

A fourth ad on top would mean the organic results are being pushed down even more. Take a look at the example of the search Rob Kerry found above. The first “real” organic result shows up just above the fold and on realy small screens you won’t even see the first organic result when you open up a page.

If you consider that more and more pages are getting Universal Results in them things could even be worse. Just imagine a map below the four ads pushing down the organic results even more. This looks like something we don’t want, but an ad-company would like, the ads are “in your face” the other stuff isn’t.

Only three organic results?

Its clear what this will do, but another test by Google showed up last week which is even more intruiging. On a thread on webmasterworld a user from Singapore shared a screenshot of a search he did on the term “Seoul”:

Now if I do a search on “Seoul” a get a perfectly optimized Universal Search Result Page with maps, news, images and more, plus ten organic results:

Thats quite a difference. In the screenshot posted by the Singapore user there are only three organic results. The map is still there and below that we find results from Wikipedia, Seoul.go.kr and the Lonely Planet. Thats it. On page two you get normal results as we are all used to.

What is going on here? There are several reasons we could be seeing this:

  • Off course this could just be a test Google is doing to see how people will react on these kind of result pages.
  • Or maybe the user in the thread is just trying to get attention and this is fake. But I don’t think that is the case. A well respected SEO, Jill Whalen, saw a similar thing happening and tweeted about it. She hasn’t reported back on it since so it seems, but the fact that she spotted it makes it plausible that this is true too.
  • Or maybe this has something to do with mobile search, but that wouldn’t make sense with the paid results on the right.

Another possibility is that Google is actually testing this to go forward with it. That would mean an even bigger change than Google Instant in my opinion. What happens here is that the emphasis is more on the sponsored links on the right side. The organic results are being made less important, except for the three who do get the attention off course.

If Google goes through with this they really will be killing organic search or they will be killing themselves. People will start using longer queries or move to another search engine. And just imagine if they put four ads on top of these three results. Where would that leave us?

I’m sure Google will be very careful with actually roling out these kind of changes, but we’ll have to keep a close look on Google to see where this is going.

Bas van den Beld

About Bas van den Beld

Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.