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, 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.

16 thoughts on “Google tests show: Google planning on killing organic all together?

  1. Either this is Google Instant’s automatic ‘search within results’ functionality gone berserk (you can see the original query of the Seoul search in the URL bar in the screen shot), or it’s fake. One thing that I do find odd, is that Google lists ‘searches related to seoul korea’ and shows ads relevant to ‘Korea’, while the user claimed to have only searched for ‘Seoul’.

    *If* Google would ever limit the amount of results (just like Bing already shows 8 or 9 results regularly), I think the will either only list official results, or that they will add more semi-commercial results than just Lonely Planet.

  2. Agreed Wiep. I thought it was fake at first too, but it looks like the query bar was from an earlier search and this was done from for example a widget.

    Even with a search like “seoul korea” or anything related it would be strange if this would only give back three results, you’re supposed to get a lot more of that search too. And the fact that Jill spotted something similar makes it more credible. I think it might really be a test in the wild, but I at this point doubt if Google would actually go through with something like this.

    A Googler once told me they tend to test out all sorts of weird stuff, this could be one of them. A test doesn’t mean it becomes true. But if it would that would change the ball game all together.

    As for the four results: I suspect that WILL happen more in the future.

  3. “One thing that I do find odd, is that Google lists ‘searches related to seoul korea’ and shows ads relevant to ‘Korea’, while the user claimed to have only searched for ‘Seoul’.”

    Seoul is the capital and largest city of South Korea so that seems relevant to me.

    I’ve also personally seen Instant Search mess up a few times and produce fewer results than normal. On my results though it has typically been around 6 results rather than 4 as in this case.

  4. I agree that Google will have to be VERY careful about rolling out a change like this.

    The fact is that people want to find the most relevant and useful search results, and not just find results from large companies who are just lucky enought o have the advertising budgets that smaller and often ‘better’ companies might have.

    I for one would be very hesitant to use Google if pages were dominated by paid advertising. Perhaps it could be an additional user preference, like the current instant search tool is?

    Great post though, thanks

  5. I think SEO is evolving, not dying. Being an Internet marketer or an SEO specialist requires a certain individual to adapt to change. That is what Internet marketing is all about. Although Google are making changes, it is time for marketers to make a difference with new techniques and SEO methods.

  6. Here’s a thought….

    Mortage Ads
    Credit Card Offers

    Notice the commonality?

    Think maybe since those are PPC Ads for “Spam Terms” they may have a higher CTR than organic?

    I’f that’s true, then Google is actually benefiting the user by screening malware laden sites and search terms?


  7. Ah its likely that each country will continue to get its own variations to the results based on Google test groups, so in a few years it will be like each country has its own search engine tailored to the local markets. I did a detailed post on the Google Mortgage stuff following on from that early tweet last week that shows the 4th AdWords result really cuts down how much shows above the fold

  8. The fourth ‘paid’ result up top is, as Dave Naylor blogged about, always a sponsored link (singular) and is a Google ad to their compare service. I haven’t seen it on anything except for this service, at least. This is currently in beta and only on certain industries but its been beta in the UK on credit cards for coming up to 6 months now so I guess its about due to be rolled out.

    The Seoul one is probably not a fake since I and a few other people have also seen it (not for that keyword). If you hit search again it returns your normal 10 results. I suspect its testing on general search terms and it’s interesting to speculate if this will feed into the Instant suggestions – the ‘searches related to’ is very much in your face and would be a perfect way for them to work at expanding generic terms more accurately rather than purely volume based. Or perhaps its just going to be this years variation of the Christmas algo change.

  9. *Of course 😉

    I haven’t noticed it over here in the UK yet, but it isn’t going to overly worry me about having a 4th ad until I notice a significant decrease in visitors from the top organic results. Of course, the results lower down on page 1 could be the bigger losers here, but organic results are still going to be where the majority of users go, in my wild estimations.


  10. I wouldn’t pack up bags and ship out yet seo’s. Google screws over the user just a little and they face losing market share. doesn’t matter how relevant they are, if i don’t get my organic results then I’m off to the next contender – nature of the game. It seems Google want our ad revenue and our personal / behavioral data, so chances are they aren’t going to revamp their model overnight and bite the hand that feeds. I expect this Google Instant to play out like universal – they test it out for a while, and if it doesn’t piss off their user base too much they squeeze it in here and there on a more permanent basis, wherever it is useful and practical. Just this mans opinion 🙂

  11. I think I’m with Steve Plunkett on this one in that it will probably apply to mostly spammed key phrases. It happened a while ago to Google Local that all of a sudden maps disappeared for terms like web design, SEO and other competitive and spammed phrases.
    If Google killed off organic listings it would arguably kill their strongest point and let other search engines take chunks of the massive market share. I am no expert but my tests have always shown Google to give the most relevant natural results, but PPC is far easier for the engines to generate relevant results on.

  12. What I believe is happening here:

    A search on ‘Seoul’ is rather a vague search, the person typing in the query could be after just some general information about Seoul, something specific or not really sure what they are after.

    With this search, it could be that Google decided that they don’t know what the user actually wants to find, so provided just 3 very different and useful results (general info from Wiki, a cultural festival and some travel information) which to me, seem like best guesses as to what the user could be looking for.

    The hope by providing just 3 natural results would be to prompt the user to be more specific in their search. If Google Instant was used here, it would perform the more specific predictive results for the user. As Google Instant wasn’t able to be used here, Google ended up best guessing and by only providing 3 results, prompting the user to search again, being more specific.

    It looks like Google could be testing Google Instant vs User Instant, as in prompting users to perform their own more specific, tailored searches, much as in an automated way like Google Instant does. Google could be testing if users have the patience and will to search again if the can’t find what they are looking for first time round from a search term that is so vague, thus helping users to self-educate about becoming better searchers.

    Just some thoughts anyway.

  13. Just playing around and not getting anything so strange. I have a couple of starred results coming up, so that’s going to push the organic results down even more and will vary based on the user so, again something else we just need to keep in mind. Is anybody using that feature much anyway?

    Would it be so surprising if Google decided to just show three listings per page so people don’t need to scroll and can quickly go to the following page to speed things up even more? It’d be a much more streamlined layout. Less ad impressions though?

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