Let’s start by making one thing clear: we’re not into any of this PPC is better than SEO or vice versa nonsense. Paid and organic search serve two different functions and your brand needs both to maximise its reach. It’s as simple as that.
That said, there has been a very noticeable shift in Google SERPs over the last five years. Organic results continue to drop further down the page for many queries. Meanwhile, Google puts more emphasis on its ads with every year that passes.
This is hardly a shock, of course, because those ads basically generate all of Google’s income. So it doesn’t make much sense for Google to give away free traffic when it can charge for it instead. The question is: what does this mean for organic SEO?
Can organic SEO survive the digital rat race?
As we say, this isn’t an “SEO is dead” article or any clickbait crap like that. We’re asking a genuine question here about how long organic can continue as a marketing channel. Facebook has all but killed it for corporate brands and Google appears to be slowly doing the same.
It’s not simply a question of corporate firms trying to squeeze more money out business owners, either. There are some other thing to consider about this.
Should organic be a marketing channel anyway?
Let’s look at things from the user perspective for a moment. They’ve had organic channels flooded with corporate messages and marketing material over the last decade. Every blog post they read is trying to sell them something, even if they’re only after some basic info.
So how can users trust any advice they get online these days, when everything is monetised? The truth is they rarely can. Google and other search engines aren’t the research tools they once were. They’re only good for comparing and buying products.
This isn’t just an ethical question; it’s something that seriously damaged the web. Google’s aggressive patch of search algorithm updates was an attempt to clear up the mess it first made. The reality is Google’s business plan was flawed. It turns out organic channels and corporate marketing don’t mix too well.
Where is the balance for a search engine like Google?
Google is still a search engine, let’s not forget that point. Which means it has a role to fill for people using its services: to connect it with the most relevant brand or content. The challenge for Google is distinguishing between those two different types of result. As things stand, it seems Google is trying to connect users to informational content via organic results and brands through paid channels.
Here’s the results page for a query asking “how to build a wardrobe:”
Not an ad in sight. But when we type in “sale on wardrobes,” we get something very different:
Now we have four AdWords ads before a single organic result – and the organic listing is Amazon, rather than informative content. You can’t really argue with that
You’ll see this consistently across non-local searches but location puts a different spin on everything. Google is now bringing more ads into the local search equation with a more ad-heavy Google Maps. But there’s still a place for local, organic searches with a commercial intent – at least for now.
How Google handles this particular balance of local, organic and paid listings will be very interesting to see.
The dilemma for Google today
It’s easy to think of Google as this immovable object that will forever dominate the web. But that’s not what chiefs at the tech firm will be thinking. Google faces a number of serious challenges that threaten its role in the modern web.
First of all, Google’s parent company Alphabet is almost entirely reliant on the money that coming from Google ads. That’s not a healthy setup for a firm that aims to be a leader in AI, life sciences and various other expensive industries.
So let’s just say Google’s decision making is influenced in a pretty obvious way.
There’s a bigger problem for Google, though: the number of people using search engines is in decline.
That’s a big concern for a company whose entire revenue revolves around search. Google’s main tactic has been to focus on optimising its platform for mobile. It’s also trying to lead the web away from an infrastructure of mobile apps, where smartphone users spend most of their time.
So Google’s hand is torn in two directions. First if needs to find the balance between informational and corporate searches. But it also needs to do it in a way that makes it a lucrative advertising platform to brands.
Normally, we’re pretty quick to criticise Google when we think its decisions are questionable. But today we’d like to wrap up by asking whether Google has much of a choice in dropping organic results down the SERPs. Forget about its ads for a moment and think about the corporate crap brands have been publishing for the last decade. Does that kind of stuff really deserve to sit at the top of search results? Search engines don’t choose the content they have to work with, they just organise it.