Most of us think of Google as the place to go and get answers to just about everything. In fact, 90 percent of all search queries use Google, accounting for almost half of all internet traffic. If you're an entrepreneur or marketer, you know that Google's primary business is selling targeted advertising along with every one of those searches. In fact, Google is the largest advertising platform in the world.
The intersection of those two realities just got a little clearer, while the distinction became less so with a few recent changes made by Google. Here's what changed recently, as well as what it means to your business.
Ads Versus Organic Results
Google Ads are extremely effective, because advertisers are able to target ads to the keywords people search for. People depend on Google to give them the highest-quality results for their questions, which is why appearing at the top of a search results page is so valuable to marketers and content creators.
For a long time, it was obvious that there was a difference between results that appear organically--ranked highly on the basis of their relevance and quality--and those that appeared prominently because they are paid ads. Over time, however, Google has made the distinction less clear.
The latest example blurs the line almost completely by adding a "fav" icon to the organic results, and including the link above the result, both of which make them look far closer to the ads above.
While it isn't clear what result this is likely to have for individual businesses, the motivation seems clear: Increase click-through on ads. Since the majority of visitors click on the top three or four search results, making the paid and organic results look as similar to each other as possible is going to lead to more clicks on the paid results since they appear at the top.
That matters if your business depends on appearing at the top of search results, and might mean that it's time to evaluate whether your content and search engine marketing strategy still make sense after these changes.
Snippets and Search Results
Another change, which could easily have an even larger impact on marketers, is that Google now says that when a site captures a snippet for a given search query, that site won't also appear in the normal search results. The snippet is one of the most valuable positions in a search result page (SERP), and is the most prominent result. For example, in the SERP below, the snippet includes the list from the article about the best iPhone apps.
In the past, that article would also have appeared in the search results below. Now, the snippet is considered a position in the results. Google's Search Liaison Twitter account explained the change:
If a web page listing is elevated into the featured snippet position, we no longer repeat it in the first page of results. This declutters the results & helps users locate relevant information more easily. Featured snippets count as one of the ten web page listings we show....-- Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 23, 2020
That seems logical, but it also has a real impact on websites that currently have the snippet for a given search term, and will now have less presence in the SERP. As with the first change, this can have a real effect on the amount of traffic your website gets if your primary strategy has been organic search.
Sometimes it might be easy to forget that ultimately, while Google's mission might be to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," it's a business.
Businesses exist to make money, and Google is very good at making money. As it gets even better at it, it isn't always clear where the line is between making information useful and using information to make money. That's a good reminder for businesses that have made organic search a major part of their marketing plan. If that's you, it might be time to consider how these changes will affect your strategy. Because, make no mistake, they absolutely do.