Over the past couple months I've talked with a lot of search marketers about the impact of the Penguin update, Google's most recent change to their ranking algorithm. Many sites have been dinged for over-optimization of anchor text. Major brands are making off like bandits. Everyone is being much more cautious with their linkbuilding tactics. At the same time I notice another trend:
SERPs are being taken over by ads.
I mean this in the most literal way possible. Look at the following SERP for "Seattle hotels":
You'll notice the standard Google ads at the top of the main section and down the right side. The only thing about those ads that stands out is how every one has the +1 count of the advertiser. You'll also notice the relatively new hotel finder provided by Google itself. Seems a bit self-serving (pun intended) doesn't it?
And what about ecommerce terms? Try out this SERP for Toto toilet seats:
Here we have 6 regular ads and 8 product ads (with image) to just 4 organic ads. And it's not just Google. Don't forget about our little friend Bing.
Bing even increase the generosity by allowing 4 paid search ads in the main section as well as the ads in the right rail. But just for scorekeeping purposes, that's 9 ads to 3 organic ads and 3 new results. Again, not even close.
Paid Search Will Continue to Get More Real Estate
More and more of the SERPs will continue to be occupied by paid results, especially above the fold, for one simple reason: Money! Google, Microsoft & Yahoo are publicly traded, profit-focused companies. Serving awesome search results ins great for users, but doesn't pay the bills. Ad clicks pay the bills and so search engines are not just incentivized, but under a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders to maximize revenue. Thus, you'd better get used to paid ads, because you're going to be seeing a lot more of them.