3rd January, 2016 | by Nick Gomez

How Paid Results Have Changed The Way We Search

We look at some of the trends in search, how search engine results pages (SERPs) are expected to evolve in the next five years and what impact subscription services could have on all this.
  • Two thirds of the upcoming workforce (digital natives!) couldn’t identify what was an ad and what wasn’t.
  • An overly competitive search results page that forces businesses to pay increasing amounts to appear at the top of ad listings, could easily drive out those without huge budgets for advertising.
  • With the revenue from paid ads is search results shifting away from desktop and divided onto brand apps, are we seeing the end of organic search results as we know it?

As savvy as we might think we are about search results pages, it became clear last year (2015) that many of us either can’t or don’t know the difference between organic and paid results. An OFCOM report at the end of 2015 found less than one in five children, aged 8 to 11, couldn’t tell which was an advert in Google’s results. Though this figure improved (marginally) to a third being able to spot the difference in 12 to 15 year olds, it still means that two thirds of the upcoming workforce (digital natives!) couldn’t identify what was an ad and what wasn’t.

What impact could this have on the future of search and how does it really affect marketers? Or for that matter, those who appear in organic or paid results?

We look at some of the trends in search, how search engine results pages (SERPs) are expected to evolve in the next five years and what impact subscription services could have on all this.

Ads are dominating results

The monetisation of search results has been astoundingly fast, but only in some areas. The popularity of a particular search term, leading to more advertisers and thus increasing its competitiveness and costs, has led to results being dominated by paid results.

Figure 1.1 SERPs dominated by paid results

What’s more, the evolution of Google has meant that, in a bid to keep users on its results pages, more information is being conveyed without a single click. For example, in Figure 1.1 while most of the results are ads, including images, there is also an image roll that takes up much of the organic results. Only three organic listings appear on this page.

Figure 1.2 Search results for event coordinator

However, in the above Figure 1.2, we can see that not all results are being dominated by ads. Although this SERP is dominated by Indeed, there are eight clear results without any ad distractions. Sadly, these are becoming rarer and rarer. (I had to do quite a few searches to get one of these results.)

Will we soon see all-paid search results?

Despite the origins of search being based in organic, genuinely helpful posts, it has quickly become monetised. This has its advantages and disadvantages for digital marketers and their clients.

At the #BrightonSEO Future of Search talk (2015), Britt Soeder from iProspect suggested that we could one day end up with an all paid search results page. Her timeline for paid search speculated that we’d see:

2018 – A Panda update to connect links with social – making follow/no follow redundant.

Google links between sites, apps, etc, taking merit from social cues such as likes.

2020 – Paid search results button, appearing like “I’m feeling lucky”

While updates to search engine algorithms can often benefit the searchers, giving them more accurate results that save them time, it could all be for nothing if fully paid search becomes a reality.

An overly competitive search results page that forces businesses to pay increasing amounts to appear at the top of ad listings, could easily drive out those without huge budgets for advertising. As we now know that many consumers can’t tell the difference between paid and organic listings, this could have a serious knock-on effect for startups and less SEO-smart brands.

Apps and subscription services could create a new market

Does anyone still watch TV on TV anymore? With more and more users – 50% of US 12-24 year old have never had cable – switching to online platforms for their TV fixes when and where they want, advertising online has followed.

With mobile/tablet being prime real estate for the buyers of tomorrow, subscription services have become more and more popular. Netflix is one of the most well known subscription services, closely followed by Spotify and now, YouTube has its own subscription service with YouTube Red at $10 per month (not yet rolled out to the UK).

Though not all subscription services will be as popular, *cough* Tidal *cough*, YouTube is likely to be a big hitter. YouTube stars are becoming more mainstream, with books, TV shows and grammy wins. The issue potentially for advertisers who enjoyed getting clicks and impressions from autoplay videos or ads on these platforms is that they’ll now be blocked throughout.

By paying a small monthly fee, users on desktop, mobile and apps can quickly remove (almost) all advertising from their online world. For many, that’s just the way they want it.

With the revenue from paid ads is search results shifting away from desktop and divided onto brand apps, are we seeing the end of organic search results as we know it? Will there always be a need to pay to be seen, and therefore clicked? This certainly seems to be the case for some companies, particularly smaller businesses and startups, where the wealth of a larger company can easily bury them in SERPs.

What does this mean for SEO?

While its undeniable that paid results are changing visibility in search, organically ranking pages are still seeing significant traffic and visibility. As SERPs come from an evolving algorithm, which SEO helps sites to work with, we are seeing new ways for “real results” to reach users. Traffic is never 100% from paid results because not all users see them as the best choice. By making sure you appear for best search terms, with clearly designated content and with attractive headings, you’ll still be getting what your business needs from SERP listings.

 

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