The State of Search — Unregulated Results and Privacy Questions Loom Large

TGoogle_s_New_SERP_Layout__The_Biggest_Winners___Losershe annual SMX Advanced Search Marketing Expo has once again taken up advanced SEO and PPC discussion on the Seattle waterfront this week. The multi-track symposium tackles the leading organic and paid search advertising questions affecting search engine visibility, search engine lead generation and the conversion analytics that flow from click-throughs to sales.

Unlike year’s past, however, the virtual real estate that divides Google’s “free” organic listings and sponsored, paid search listings, or AdWords advertising, is changing. The organic world is shrinking— dramatically.

On the first Google search engine results page, the “SERP,” there are now between 2-4 paid search ads at the top of the window, and up to 8 paid “shopping results” ads along the right-hand side.  A new development, just announced at the Seattle Expo, is that one-out-of-three “Local” listings will now be a paid search ad unit, meaning only two spots are left for local marketers to vie for organic discovery in “Map pin” view.

Feeling outnumbered? In 2016, you have as many as 12 paid results before the first organic result ever appears.  Google claims this is to standardize the page layout between desktop and mobile search, but of course device detection and custom ad displays have always been possible.

The shifting search landscape begs the question: Is Google’s incursion into the browser space for natural, organic search listings an effort to maximize profit-per-square-pixel?  If so, is this in the public interest? Who regulates these policies, or even acts as ombudsman for Google in fielding consumer questions of fairness and marketability?  The answer, in both cases, is “no one.”

Now that the FCC has declared the Internet a neutral public utility, a position Google supports, the role of dominant players in search becomes an issue of public trust. Let us not forget, search engines serve as the Table of Contents for all that is located on the Web. If you don’t appear in search results, you’re all but off the grid.

In comparison, Apple Computer announced last week that its App Store would now be accepting search advertising. A key difference between Apple paid search (which it refers to as “pay-per-tap” rather than “pay-per-click”), is that Apple will rotate paid search results so that the little guys have a chance to complete with the big guys. Without this rotation, the rich ad budgets would get richer and the small budgets all but disappear. Who will bring this idea of rotational fairness to Google’s attention?

The scarier issue right now is what is going on with Facebook search and what it may mean for Google data-mining. Facebook has a seemingly insurmountable advantage when it comes to data about their users by virtue of the fact that they collect personal demographic and psychographic info (likes, and other emotions) from users.  A Facebook search advertising campaign, while it doesn’t measure a searchers “intent” by keyword, (at least not yet), allows for targeting of display ads to users at a level that runs rings around Google’s circles.

smx-advancedGoogle has the same kind of surveillance available to it in its Gmail product, where, no surprise, Google serves advertising based on the contents of your email, which it claims is read by machines, not humans, and therefore makes you anonymous. If that is the rationale for its “targeted advertising”  then what is to prevent Google from serving personalized ads (based on the same machine-like anonymity) across their entire network once they know who is logged on (be it by name, cookie or number)?  

These are important public policy issues of considerable magnitude where privacy is concerned. For SMX Advanced, the advancement of search marketing ideas and their social impact ought to be this week’s topics du jour. [24×7]

Category: Advisor X, What's Brewing?

About the Author (Author Profile)

Larry Sivitz is founder, publisher and managing editor of Seattle24x7, the founder of SearchWrite Search Marketing, an SEO, PPC and Social Media Thought Leader, and an SPJ award winner for Seattle magazine.