Doing a little searching earlier today, I was using the search engine which has been my default choice for the past fifteen years or so (Google) and I was struck by a marked contrast between what the company is actually doing in rendering its SERPS and what they are saying i.e. how they suggest that a quality website should look.
The recent Panda updates to Google’s ranking algorithm have been the subject of much discussion and naturally, I have been keeping an eye on what such a rewrite means for our site. The fact is that any change that is designed to filter out lower quality sites from the SERPS or to rank them lower can only have a beneficial effect for our site, so I have not worried too much about it.
Nevertheless, I did derive the following guidelines from things that Mat Cutts (Google’s spokesperson) has said in various places on the web.
Low Quality Sites are Characterised by:
* Low Value Add for Users
* Copied Content
* Sites that Not Very Useful
High Quality Sites are Characterised by:
* Original Content
* Original Information such as Research
* In-Depth Reports
* Thoughtful Analysis
As I said, nothing there for us to worry too much about. But today I came across a piece of information that suggested that sites showing ads ‘above the fold’ might be deemed to be of low value to users and, I guess, it was this information that was somewhere in the back of my mind as I trawled the Google SERPS today.
The question is: do Google’s own SERPS conform to those same recommendations about providing good quality content above the fold? It is something that I genuinely think the search engine giant should think more seriously about. I realised that in the normal window that I use in the Chrome browser, I could see just one organic search result in the results window without scrolling. Above it there were three contextual ads and down the right hand side of the screen, there were five of the eight contextual ads visible.
When I think back to why I decided to use Google all of those years ago, it was mainly because the results pages were not full of ads and they were very well laid out, so it seemed that you could find what you were looking for quickly. These days, you have to get below the fold to access the organic results if the search query is at all competitive. The realisation led me to conduct my own little survey of competing engines.
The queries used for the test were search strings deemed to be competitive, such as ‘weight loss’ and ‘quit smoking’. The query was manually typed into each of the search engines below and the results on the first page of the SERPS were simply counted.
Here are my results:
In the above graph, you can see the number of ads shown at the top and the number shown on the right hand side of the SERPS. In terms of the user experience, assuming that the user requires to see the organic content, Blekko seems to be doing the best job. However, both DuckDuckGo and Yebol also did not show sponsored ads on the pages tested. The graph below shows the organic results expressed as a percentage of the total (organic + sponsored ads).
Before conducting this bit of research, I had never heard of the first three engines on the above graph and, at present, I have no information about the quality of the results returned, but all three of those engines seem, at least to me, to be much more focussed on the user experience.
Perhaps the time has come for the likes of Google to rethink its own approach to the layout of its SERPS pages. It really was not that long ago that search engines like Alta Vista had the bulk of the search market. So the lesson from history is that Google will not be immune to similar changes in what that market demands of its search portal of choice.