Google SERP evolution – Attack or Defense?

November 19, 2010

I’ve been watching Google’s creeping monetisation of their Search Result Page ever since the beginning. It seems hard to remember that when they started out, Page and Brin, like any good-natured geeks, were actually anti-advertising. Here’s a statement they issued in the first years: “We expect advertising-funded search engines to be biased towards advertisers and away from consumers needs“.

Then Adwords started, clearly confined over to the right of the page and demarcated with a line. Over the years the line disappeared. Some ads started appearing directly above the search result. More ads appeared. All the while the adwords styling blended more and more into the regular results. On one occasion there was even a change where the regular results were made to look more like the ads. With the latest land-grab of Google Places results, the amount of page space left for organic results is under threat of extinction.

My reaction to this has always been that its driven by greed for more profits. Ever since Eric Schmidt “took over”, Google has been displaying more and more of the usual Corporate America greed (which is why I’m such an ardent Google Basher).

But recently I had an insight that maybe there is another story behind the relentless Adwords land-grab. What if Google was losing its battle against spam? Both Black-Hat and White-Hat SEO have advanced hugely in the last decade. The stakes are high, so the resources put into gaming the Algorithm have rocketed. And there are more sophisticated schemes too – how do you combat content farms for example? Indeed, if I was sitting in a Google Think Tank and had to identify the greatest potential threat to google’s future, it wouldn’t be Facebook or Twitter or Apple. No, it would be the SEO’s getting the better of the algorithm.

I for one, have actually noticed a deterioration in Google results over the last year, although admittedly its very difficult to measure with all the different personalisation permutations these days. And there is no benchmark really… or if there is, it is Google itself. But this year certain Googlers even publicly admitted that schemes such as content farms were polluting results more than previously and they attributed this to some of their internal spam-fighting resources been deployed on other Google projects.

One way that this spam problem could be countered is by pushing paid results more. Paid results are rarely spammy. For certain queries their quality may even be better than the organics. And they’re completely controllable. As to Google Place listings (the latest invaders of the SER Page), spam control is pretty much 100% foolproof.

So maybe there is actually an element of “Defence” in the never-ending Adword encroachment? It’s a possibility that I thought I just had to put out there. Not that I’m entirely convinced…

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