I suppose we all knew this would happen eventually, so it’s no big surprise that the Big Google Sellout of 2010, as I will now call it from now on, has begun. What am I talking about, you ask? Allow me to direct your attention to this screenshot:
Please take a good look at that search results page. How many unpaid listings do you see?
There is just one unpaid listing on this page, above the fold. Google has become an ad-search engine. Every listing you see has been paid for, except for B & B Movers. All the other local results are paying $25/month to show up with their yellow tags. This is a self fulfilling cycle, of course. If your competitors get bright yellow tags to attract users’ attention, you have to get one too in order to not be left behind. Right?
So, my point is that basically the whole above-the-fold area on the SERP shows only sponsored links. It’s a good deal for the advertisers, but perhaps not such a great deal for the users. Users have a certain expectation of the SERPs – an expectation that most likely includes some ad-free results. I know from experience that many users tend to click on some of the first Maps/Local results they see. But will they hesitate to do so now that those results say “Sponsored”? I think some users might. And I think many users will be turned off when they realize that all the search results they see are sponsored. Google became the most popular search engine partially due to the simplicity of the site and the perceived honesty/authenticity of the results it displayed. If users start to feel like that expectation of authenticity has been betrayed, they just may consider switching to another search engine. I hear Bing is doing pretty well these days…