Google’s infant focus was on providing good search results, identifying links to high quality sites. But unfortunately that aspiration and the need to rake in profits have not coincided in later years. How do you keep the quality of your search results and engine high, when the main motivation of your shareholders is for you to sell ads?
Google Adwords was Google’s flagship advertising machine. Advertisers could decide which Google search page their ads would appear on, and the union of provider and client seemed a good one. And it was. It used traffic from its search results and translated it into revenue. In other words, Google monetised its traffic, and in doing saw its profits rise on the back of Adwords with the rise of its market share in search.
Unfortunately, with mobile searches increasingly becoming commonplace, Google’s space for advertising and space for its Adwords advertisements, shrank. When searches were primarily done with desktop computers, it was easy to place ads on the right hand side of the screen. But mobile screens have meant this is not possible anymore.
Google had always resisted the urge to place ads to clutter search pages. Its view from the outset was that ads compromised the quality of search results, and this was what had killed off the big portals like Lycos, Alta Vista and Jeeves. But now if you do any Google search, you will find ads on the top and bottom of the screen, giving the impression they are organic results, ones that the Google search engine we trusted are most relevant.
Google has in a way compromised the quality of its search results. Its uniqueness at the outset was the ability to accurately weight search pages and circumvent the keyword stuffing and other spam that had plagued the search results of other engines and portals, and the early days of Google continually focused on making search better. The unmatched ability to do so would put it at the forefront of search technology, blow its competitors away, and lay the foundation for its profitable AdWords system.
When it filed to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Adwords was accounting for roughly $3.14b, comprising 98.4% of Google’s revenue.
Back then the AdWords system was non-obtrusive, off to the side (as it should be) and their organic results never looked better.
But the need to satisfy shareholders meant the need to sell more ads, which Google couldn’t.
So instead of ads to the side of the screen, Google started adding add spaces to the top and bottom of search results.
And it also started personalising search. The idea was sold to users as making results even more relevant and specific, but it also gave Google an additional oilfield to drill from.
With personalised search, everyone got a different version of the search results. This wasn’t new, of course. Google had been personalising search results for years, in an attempt to create a better user experience.
But what it meant was now there were many different versions of the same page, depending on a user’s previous search history. Here was a partial solution to their revenue problems.
Companies or businesses that wanted to dominate search for a particular page would now have to dominate various versions of the same page and hence spend more on advertising.
And brands were also forced to bid for the right to be placed alongside certain searches, like an ebay for keywords.
Personalised search also presented users with a problem. Perhaps it was one Google was trying to create all along. Google users now found it difficult to establish a cause and effect link between their SEO attempts and their ranking positions because the results varied from person to person, and device to device; that, along with a variable time delay, meant that a clear connection to the changes that were being made to influence search results and the search results themselves, were hard to establish.
In other words, Google was making harder to predict and hence manipulate the search engine algorithms.
Web masters might have done some on site optimisation to their sites, but not seen any recognisable effect. And even if there was some noticeable shift months later, such as a fall in rankings, it would be difficult to attribute this to the misapplication of on-site optimisation or the application of SEO of a competing site.
Yet over the years Google has also purported to drop tidbits of insights on how to build Google-friendly sites through Google employees like Matt Cutts (now ex-employee) and John Mueller, or through their Google Webmaster Tools forum. The aforementioned-two are adored by the SEO community, yet if they had any information that might show how results were affected, or how the search engine worked, why would they share it?
Know what? It’s all misinformation.
Google’s strategy is for you to exhaust your time and money trying to optimise your sites, writing content, doing the SEO, and creating a massive burn rate of your time and money, so that eventually, after having tried all the options, and seeing no direct link between results and effort, you are forced to turn to the one spend that you know will return you to the top of a search page.
But how long can a search engine, whose entire prominence was based off of organic, natural results, last in an age where their search listings have been taken over by paid ads and shopping results?