Debate: Google's search pages prioritize ads and services over results

By on September 6, 2012, 5:00 PM

A blog post questioning the priority Google places on displaying organic search results has sparked an interesting discussion between a Google employee and folks at Hacker News. On Monday, Alex Yumashev of Jitbit released an article suggesting that truly relevant results only occupy 18.5% of a Google search page -- at least in his example search anyway, which was performed on a 13-inch (1280x960) notebook.

Of those pixels, only 535x425 displayed "something that people are actually looking for," while the rest were reserved for advertisements, tools and other Google services. Beyond surface area, Yumashev noted that his example search page contained about 45 different links and only five (11%) of them were actual search results. Excluding links to tools and Google services, search results still represented only 27% of the links.

By comparison, Yumashev cites an old screenshot of Google that is split 53% to 47% between results and ads. In other words, he says Google's search pages are becoming cluttered with junk the average user doesn't want to see. "The company is obviously interested in people clicking more ads (in fact, I believe that's also the true reason behind "Penguin" and "Panda") since it's the company's primary source of income..."

Modern Google Search Results

Old Google Search Results

Matt Cutts, head of Google's Webspam team, responded to the criticism by highlighting what he deems as flaws in Yumashev's analysis. Cutts noted that the left-hand column of Google's search pages shouldn't be excluded from the equation because they allow users to refine their results. He also notes that the actual search box is excluded as non-search, as is whitespace, which makes it "easier and faster" to scan results.

Cutts said ads shouldn't be dismissed as junk, either. "We actually think our ads can be as helpful as the search results in some cases. And no, that's not a new attitude," he explained. "Of course there are tons of searches where we don't show ads. A lot of people like to take a query that shows ads and say 'Aha!' but they're forgetting all the queries that don't show ads. Not to mention that our ads aren't just a straight auction"

Naturally, some folks aren't buying that. "Let's cut to the chase," wrote one user. "I sell a flowcharting tool. According to Google Analytics, ~40% of my visitors are running displays with a screen height of 800 pixels or below. Adjusting my browser window size accordingly, I search for 'flowchart software'. Only 2 organic results are above the fold, whereas there are 7 ads above the fold. 2/9 = 22%, so the OP really wasn't that far off..."




User Comments: 11

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Ranger1st Ranger1st said:

Don't even use Google any more.. Yahoo.co.uk.. Even though I'm in Canada.. it's the most open I've found that's usable.. duckduck go is a shambles to use..

Win7Dev said:

Get a 24" screen, problem solved.

1 person liked this | lipe123 said:

Get a 24" screen, problem solved.

Last I checked a % is a % no matter what size your screen is. What drives me the MOST insane about google search results is that they don't filter out the obvious bullS*** sites. You search for a driver download and the first 7 results are all from whateveryousearchedfor.download.com and .yourdownload.com and .yetanotherfakassdownloadiste.com

They need to get their heads back in the game.

ReederOnTheRun ReederOnTheRun said:

Funny. I just googled "saas help desk" and got zero ads. Then again I'm in America and that test was with the UK site.

psycros psycros said:

Man, I miss the old Google. So much more readable, better results, FAR less annoying and infinitely more useful. Now we have a screen full or gabage and....Google plus. Yay.

TechnikL said:

Or, just use something like Firefox with AdBlockPlus addon, I have forgotten about ads altogether, I only get "organic results and google tools and services. Not to mention the joy of searching anywhere else on the net with almost 0 ads.

Good article though :)

Jillxz said:

Or, just use something like Firefox with AdBlockPlus addon, I have forgotten about ads altogether, I only get "organic results and google tools and services. Not to mention the joy of searching anywhere else on the net with almost 0 ads.

I use Firefox 15 with Adblock Plus and still get ads in Google search.

yorro said:

You know "Why these ads" link exists for a reason.

1. I think that Google should limit Ads by at least 2 on the main results.

2. Reclaim the extra white space on both left and right(especially) pane by extending the width of the main result.

Anyway, people shouldn't really dismiss the ads just like that. They do hold a little bit of relevance (for what its worth)

If some people really find it ads annoying, AdBlock is your friend.

Camikazi said:

Funny. I just googled "saas help desk" and got zero ads. Then again I'm in America and that test was with the UK site.

Same here nothing but the real results no ads when searching for "saas help desk".

Tygerstrike said:

Its all about money ppl. Google is obviously getting something for displaying these ads at the top of their page. Ppl still need to be paid reguardless. This is how Google generates revenue. Besides, ads themselves can be useful if thats what you need. The inclusion of more ads is just Googles way of trying to balance function with profitability. Cant have one w/o the other or your just not in business.

ReederOnTheRun ReederOnTheRun said:

Same here nothing but the real results no ads when searching for "saas help desk".

Or, just use something like Firefox with AdBlockPlus addon, I have forgotten about ads altogether, I only get "organic results and google tools and services. Not to mention the joy of searching anywhere else on the net with almost 0 ads.

Good article though

Solved.

It turns out I forgot I had AdBlock Plus enabled on Chrome. That's why I don't see any ads.

Anndd on that note, if you cared about ads enough to read this article, I would highly recommend getting AdBlock Plus if you have Firefox or Chrome!

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