Time to Retire From SEO

Since we are now at the point that some search results don't have *ANY* organic search results, it is hard to see much purpose in SEO.

Maybe the doommasters who called SEO dead for over a decade were finally proved right about SEO?

SEO is dead.

SEO was only ever a bug. And web users mostly didn't notice when the search results turned into nothing but ads.

Everything is going full circle. Ad heavy is bad to nothing but ads.

Webmasters are focusing so heavily on mobile-first that they are making their desktop sites unusable...

...at the same time usability experts are now recommending making things harder to save humanity.

Change creates opportunity. New changes, new channels, new options, new models, new methods.

I have decided to take a break from SEO and am transitioning to paid search, since clearly that is the future of all search marketing.

I've closed our membership site down to new paid member accounts & canceled all active paid subscriptions.

Perhaps it might be time for me to dust of PPCblog and shift most of my blogging to over there.

That is, if blogging still matters!

Going out on a positive note, the great team at Bing recently shared a promotional code with me to offer new advertisers a free $100 ad credit. Bing Ads clicks are a great value when compared against Google AdWords. You can access this coupon today via the following link:

For a limited time, get $50 in free search advertising with Bing Ads* and start tapping into millions of potential customers searching for products and services like yours on the Bing Network.

How Google Search Works in 2016

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Many years ago we created an infographic about how search works, from the perspective of a content creator, starting with their content & following it through the indexing & ranking process.

As users have shifted to mobile devices, the limited screen size of the devices have pushed search engines to squeeze out & displace publishers with their own self-hosted information in an effort to offset the poor usability offered by tiny devices, while ensuring the search habit does not decline.

The philosophy of modern search has thus moved away from starting with information and connecting it to an audience, to starting with the user and customizing the result page to them.

"The biggest three challenges for us still will be mobile, mobile, mobile" - Google's Amit Singhal

How Do Search Engines Work?

Fix Humming Microphone Noise

I frequently use Skype to talk online and over the past 3 or 4 months I have had a bit of a struggle using it. Nothing has been wrong with Skype, but sometimes when I plug in headphones and a microphone I hear a loud humming or buzzing noise.

On Windows there is also a setting in the sound control panel to try to fix some humming issues.

The following picture shows how the microphone had a green bar level stuck at 2 or 3, which was associated with that hum noise.

If I spoke or didn't the bar continued to stay stuck at 2.

To try to fix the problem via Windows internal software you can click from
sound > recording > microphone > properties > enhancements

and then from there enable both the noise suppression and acoustic echo cancellation features.

While doing the above made the hum quieter, it still did not completely fix it.

Beyond that software solution approach, some issues can be fixed simply by:

  • switching from plugging the microphone into the back 3.5mm plugin instead of the front plugin,
  • disabling then enabling the microphone, or
  • turning the computer off then back on.

None of those worked for me!

I thought the problem was that the headset was old & broken, so that was the first thing I replaced. Unfortunately that did not fix the issue.

Before buying a new headset, a good way to isolate the issue is to try your headset on another computer or laptop. If it works there, then the problem is internal to the computer.

Reading many online reviews it appears that a common cause for the background static noise is the computer having an issue with not being grounded. The humming sound was the electrical current running through the audio jack.

If your computer is a laptop, you can test unplugging the power cord from the laptop while talking to see if that makes the buzz sounds go away. If your computer is a desktop PC then you will need likely need to get it grounded.

To fix the floating current problem I plugged the computer into a 3-prong outlet in the wall. The problem was the only grounded outlet in my room was the one for the air conditioner & it had a specialized fitting. I had to buy a converter to allow a regular power strip to plug into the grounded outlet & then run the air conditioner and computer off of it.

I was certain that would have fixed the grounding problem, but it still didn't.

I ensured all my power plugs are connected tightly, but there is still a floating current.

I use a universal power supply which may be introducing the floating currency issue & I could try to remove that from the equation by not using a UPS, but then my computer work won't be saved if power goes out.

The best solution I was able to come up with was to move away from using a 3.5mm microphone and headphones combo to instead use a USB powered headset. Gaming headsets are quite comfortable and affordable & can plug into your USB outlet, allowing you to turn off your core microphone outlet and still be able to hear clearly.

My wife got me a set of SteelSeries USB headset for about $40 on Amazon.com and it worked great.

The only thing I had to do to make it work was ensure the old 3.5mm audio jack was turned off so the humming noise was not carried across & then plug in the new set to USB and they worked right away.

If you have a limited number of USB ports on your computer then a USB splitter can be had for under $10.

It is also worth noting that if $40 is more than you want to spend on a headset, some of the options listed on Amazon.com are as cheap as $10.

I hope the above post helped you fix any problems you have with noises running through your mic. If it didn't please comment below with information about your situation and I will try to help.

Google's Chris DiBona On Search Ecosystem Diversity

It's hard to deny that some folks working at Google are geniuses. It's also hard to deny the disconnect in their messaging.

As Google locked down their "open" ecosystem (compatibility as a club, abandonware, deleting privacy settings, extensions required to be installed from store, extensions required to be single-purpose, forced Google+ integration, knowledge graph scrape-n-displace, “We could either sue him or hire him," etc.), I thought an interview of one of their open source evangelists would be entertaining.

Chris DiBona delivered:

Can you imagine if you didn't have the malware protection and the process isolation of Chrome, that Chrome brought to other browsers? Can you imagine surfing the web the way it is right now? It's pretty grim. There's a lot of malware. You end up basically funnelling people into fewer and fewer sites, and therefore fewer and fewer viewpoints and all the rest.

There are many hacked websites, but sometimes large sites serve malware through their ads. Ad networks are one of the best ways to distribute malware. The super networks core to the web ecosystem are home to much of the malware - even GoogleBot was tricked into doing MySQL injection attacks. But even if we ignored that bit, it doesn't take much insight to realize that Google is achieving that same kill diversity "goal" through other means...

...as they roll out many algorithmic filters, manual penalties, selectively enforce these issues on smaller players (while giving more exploitative entities a free pass), insert their own vertical search services, dial up their weighting on domain authority, and require smaller players to proactively police the rest of the web while Google thinks the n-word 85 times is totally reasonable on their own tier-1 properties.

We have another post coming on the craziness of disavows and link removals, but it has no doubt gone beyond absurd at this point.

Why is diversity so important?

Dissent evolves markets. The status quo doesn't get changed by agreeing & aligning with existing power structures. Anyone who cares to debate this need only look at Google's ongoing endless string of lawsuits. Most of those lawsuits are associated with Google (rightly or wrongly) taking power from what they view as legacy entities.

Even on a more personal level, one's investment returns are likely to be better when things are out of favor:

"Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful." - Warren Buffett

In many markets returns and popularity are inversely proportional

Investing in Internet stocks in 1999 was popular, but for those who stayed too long at the party it was a train wreck. Domain name speculators who bought into the carnage a couple years later did well.

Society is so complex & inter-connected that its very easy to think things run far more smoothly than they do & thus buy into to many fibs that are obviously self-evident until the moment they are not.

Popularity is backward looking, enabling the sheep to be sheared.

Unfortunately depth & diversity are being sacrificed to promote pablum from well known entities in formats that are easy to disintermediate & monetize.

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems – rather this is one of our most frightening problems.
- Benjamin Bratton

Innovative knowledge creation and thought reading tattoosthe singularity is near.

Google Paid Inclusion Programs: Buy a Top Ranking Today

Google announced they were going to extend their vertical paid inclusion program to product search queries, where the paid inclusion results are put inline with the organic search results, often driving most (if not all) of the organic search results below the fold.

The layout of the result looks something like this

Or if you put it in Google's browser analysis tool, it looks something like this

And with that move, if you are in ecommerce & you don't rank #1 you are essentially invisible to most searchers.

As John Andrews highlighted on Twitter: "Notice Google tells us "paid relationships improve quality" and then penalizes for paid links?"

As always, it is more profitable to follow Google's biz dev team than Google's public relations pablum.

In some cases Google might include 3 or 4 different types of monetization in a search result. In the below search result Google includes:

  • AdWords ads
  • Google Offers
  • Hotel Comparison ads
  • Hotel Price ads

And those are *in addition* to featuring promotional links to Google Maps & Google+ in the search results. Further, some of these vertical results consist exclusively of paid inclusion & then have yet another layer of PPC ads over the top.

As SEOs we focus a lot of energy on "how do I rank 1 spot higher" but when the organic results are displaced and appear below the fold why bother? The issue of the incredibly shrinking organic result set is something that can't be over-emphasized. For many SEOs the trend will absolutely be career ending.

AdWords, product listing ads, brand navigation, product search, local, etc. A result like this has a single organic listing above the fold & if Google decides to rank their local one spot higher then that turns to zero.

If you look at the new TLD announcement Google applied for .MBA & .PhD (as well as many names around entertainment, family & software). Thus it is safe to say that education will eventually be added to local, video, media, shopping & travel as verticals where Google is displacing the organic results with links to more of their fraternal listings. About the only big categories this will leave unscathed will be real estate, employment & healthcare. However those first 2 are still in contraction during our ongoing depression & Google blew a lot of their health credibility by pushing those illegal ads for steroids from a person posing as a Mexican drug lord.

In addition to these fixed vertical that cover the most profitable areas of search, Google is also building a "vertical search on the fly" styled service with their knowledge graph. Their knowledge graph extracts data from 3rd party websites & then can be used to funnel traffic and revenue to Google's various vertical services. To make it seem legit, Google will often start by sending some of the traffic onto 3rd party sites, but the end destination is no different than product search. While it is a "beta" product it is free to justify an inferior product being showcased front & center, but after Google gets enough buy in they monetize.

There is a non-subtle difference between Google's approach and Microsoft's approach to building a search ecosystem.

Sucking the Brains Out of the Internet

After Google was unable to acquire Yelp they offered Yelp (& sites like TripAdvisor) an ultimatum: "either let Google steal your content & displace you with a competing service consisting largely of the stolen content, or block GoogleBot if you don't like it." While Google sucks in the value created by such 3rd party sites, they also explicitly exclude them from various vertical services aligned with the most valuable keywords. Yet at the same time, all this is to be seen as legitimate because there is a computer used somewhere. It as though humans are not making these profitable business decisions at all & so Google hires lawyers to write coin operated legal opinions about how computer generated results are free speech.

Nextag's CEO wrote a scathing article about Google in the WSJ, which promoted a response from Amit Singhal.

If you've wondered why Google keeps appearing before regulators, keeps being called evil, was just sued by the Texas AG, & has their own hate organization the above exemplifies why.

Let's compare that behavior against Yahoo! or Bing.

Yahoo! has long been considered out of the search game, yet when they want to have a competitive advantage they do things like license photos from Getty. They use the content with permission on agreed terms.

Google's approach is more along the lines of "scrape it now & figure out legal later." And after a long enough period has passed they will add monetization & mix it into the core of their offering, like they recently did with books:

This launch transitions the billions of pages of scanned books to a unified serving and scoring infrastructure with web search. This is an efficiency, comprehensiveness and quality change that provides significant savings in CPU usage while improving the quality of search results.

Both Bing & Google are creating knowledge graphs. Bing does things like partner with Britannica, Yelp & Qwiki.

Eric Enge interviewed Stefan Weitz about the new Bing interface. As part of that interview, Stefan described Bing's editorial philosophy on building a search ecosystem

We partner with 3rd party services instead of trying to build or acquire them. There are probably something like a million apps out there today.

I talk to probably two dozen start-ups every week that are doing different cool things on the web. To think that we are ever going to be able to actually beat them, or out-execute them (when they are talking about 12 guys with half a million angel funding building some really interesting apps), it is just not likely.

Ars Technica also has a piece discussing the creation of entity graphs (which is where the "sucking the brains" line came from). A key difference between Bing & Google is that Bing feels they should partner with sources & link out, whereas Google links the results back into more Google searches. What's more, when Google features their own vertical results in many cases links to the data sources are not provided at all & you stay on a fully Google experience, in spite of the cost to 3rd parties in building & maintaining databases that are scraped to power Google's offerings.

Off the start forays into new categories might provide some value to publishers in order to get buy in, but eventually the "first hit free" stuff shifts to paid & Google continues to displace publishers across more and more of the ecosystem, using content scraped from said publishers.

Funding Scraping

When Google or Apple drive cars around the country or fly military-grade planes over cities to create 3D maps of cities they are creating databases & adding new information. Outside of collecting private data (like wifi payload data) there is little to complain about with that. They are adding value to the system.

However, at the same time, Google not only scrapes themselves, but they are a revenue engine that drives a lot of third party scraping. And they design penalties in a way that allows those who scrape penalized sites to outrank them. With batch penalty updates some folks can chain redirects, expired domains & so on to keep exploiting the combination of copyright violations & Google penalties to make a mint. Google also had a long history of funding Traffic Equalizer sites, sites like Mahalo that would take a copy of a search result & auto-generate a page on it, newspaper sites that would hang auto-generated stub preview articles on subdomains, & sites like eHow which integrate humans into the process.

While many sites are still penalized from the first version of Panda, downstream referrals to eHow.com from Google in the US were up over 9% last month. They know "how to create SEO content."

Yes, this really is an ad inside an ad, from eHow.

Recently a start up that launched a couple years ago decided to take their thousands of subdomains of scraped databases & partner with authoritative websites to syndicate that content around the web. Some of those get double listings & for some search queries there is the same page (with a different masthead logo) 5 different times. Those sites don't get hit by duplicate content filters or algorithms like Panda because they have enough domain authority that they get a free pass. Including AdSense in the set up probably makes it more palatable to Google as well.

If you have scale you can even auto-generate a bunch of "editorial" questions off the database.

More data = more pages = more questions and comparisons = more pages = SEO alchemy (especially if you don't have to worry about Panda).

The parent scraper site includes links back to itself on every syndicated page, which to some degree makes it a glorified PageRank funnel. WPMU.org got smoked for syndicating out a sponsored theme on one of his own sites, but the above industrial-scale set up is somehow reasonable because it was launched by a person who sold their first start up to Google (and will likely sell this start up to Google too). The site also includes undisclosed affiliate links & hands out "awards" badges to the best casual encounter sex dating sites, which then get syndicated around the web & get it many inbound links from "high quality" porn sites.

I won't name the site here for obvious reasons, but they are not doing the above in a cloak of darkness that one has to look hard to find & do deep research to patch together. For some search results they are half or more of the search result set & they even put out press releases when they add new syndication partners, linking to numerous new automated subdomains or sections within sites related to various categories.

When the search results look like that, if you do original in-depth reviews that are expensive there is zero incentive structure to leaving your content and ratings open to Google and these sort of scraper/syndicaters.

There is always a new spin on the mash up low end content with high trust websites and try to feed it into Google. So long as Google biases their algorithms toward big brands & looks the other way when they exploit the ecosystem that trend will not end.

The Illusion of Choice

It is hard to see & feel the cost of a dominant market participant unless you have to do business negotiations with them:

The Independent Publishers Group, a principal distributor of about 500 small publishers, recently angered Amazon by refusing to accept the company’s peremptory demand for deeper discounts. Amazon promptly yanked nearly 5,000 digital titles. Small-press publishers were beside themselves. Bryce Milligan of Wings Press, based in Texas, spoke for most when, in a blistering broadside, he lambasted Amazon, complaining that its actions caused his sales to drop by 40 percent.

However, even when companies are brutal in some aspects they do amazing things in other areas, so one has to weigh the good with the bad.

Now more than ever we are drowning in perceived choice, but if you look at market after market they are far more consolidated on the business side.

Into hipster indie music? Those labels are heavily reliant on the bigs. The increased flow of online streaming royalties will further increase the consolidation as big businesses prefer to negotiate with other big businesses & small players lack the resources needed to move the needle.

At any point Google can fold one vertical into another or extend out a new model. The Android Marketplace feeds into Google Play, Google local feeds into Google+, Google search force feeds just about everything else & even free offerings on sites like YouTube will eventually become pay to play stores.

Where Google lacks marketshare & forced bundling isn't enough to compete they can buy the #2 or #3 player in the market & try to propel it to #1 using all those other forms of bundling.

Part of what made search competitive against other platforms was its openness & neutrality. But if the search results are Wal-Mart over and over again (or the same scraped info 5 times in a row, or a collection of internal listings) then the system becomes more closed off & the perception of choice becomes an illusion. John Andrews wrote a couple great Tweets expressing the shift in search:

  • "Google SEO is no longer worth the effort for those who are not writers, artists, speakers, trainers, or promoters. What happened to Search?"
  • "If you want to see what Google will look like after it locks up, look at Apple. ipad users are already "managed" very tightly."

When companies try to expand the depth of their platform with more features it is a double edged sword. At some point they capture more value than they create and are no longer worth the effort. When they get to that stage it becomes a race to the bottom with scrapers trying to outscrape one another. Then in turn the company that created the ecosystem problem uses the pollution they rewarded to further justify closing off the system, guaranteeing only more of the same. Those who actually add value move on looking for greener pastures.

Protecting Privacy

Google promotes that they make browsing safe & Firefox will soon stop passing referrer data. Apple was granted an anti-Big Brother patent. StopBadware partnered with Google, Facebook & others to create a self policing industry organization named the Ads Integrity Alliance.

When these companies are not busy "protecting" users they acquire recognition technology, collect a treasure trove of personal data, deliver fake endorsements, provide false testimonials & sell off the data to third parties.

Microsoft filed a patent for serving mood-based ads & there is research on how depressed people use the internet.

These companies compete on both the hardware & software level, collecting more data & creating more ad formats.

A label or an interest is a vector for ad targeting. There is no need to worry about de-anonymizing data for ad targeting when it is all in-network and you monitor what someone does, control which messages they see, & track which ones they respond to. Tell someone something often enough and they may believe it is true.

The Contempt Large Companies Have for their Customers

There is a sameness to customer service from a lot of big companies. They spend loads & loads to track you and market to you, but then disappear the moment things go wrong, as they are forbidden to care.

Perhaps the only thing worse that AOL's customer support is the unmoderated comments on the YouTube page.

Google will rate YOUR customer service, but when it comes to customer service FROM them you are on your own:

Denise Griffin, the person in charge of Google’s small customer-support team, asked Page for a larger staff. Instead, he told her that the whole idea of customer support was ridiculous. Rather than assuming the unscalable task of answering users one by one, Page said, Google should enable users to answer one another’s questions.

Even their official blog posts announcing that they are accepting customer feedback for your applications go unmoderated.

This sort of contempt exists at essentially all large companies.

Everything seems on the up & up, but that "private listing" was maybe for a counterfeit product.

If it isn't a counterfeit & you get too good of a price you are threatened with a lawsuit, and the branded network falls behind a "oh we are just a marketplace and can't be bothered to give a crap about our customers" public relations angle.

If a company has size there is a limit to how much they can invest in any individual transaction. And so ebooks made of YouTube comments invade Amazon.com.

Apple creates "beautiful" products designed around forced obsolescence:

The Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart: unlike the previous model, the display is fused to the glass—meaning replacing the LCD requires buying an expensive display assembly. The RAM is now soldered to the logic board—making future memory upgrades impossible. And the battery is glued to the case—requiring customers to mail their laptop to Apple every so often for a $200 replacement. The design may well be comprised of “highly recyclable aluminum and glass”—but my friends in the electronics recycling industry tell me they have no way of recycling aluminum that has glass glued to it like Apple did with both this machine and the recent iPad. The design pattern has serious consequences not only for consumers and the environment, but also for the tech industry as a whole.
Every time we buy a locked down product containing a non-replaceable battery with a finite cycle count, we’re voicing our opinion on how long our things should last. But is it an informed decision? When you buy something, how often do you really step back and ask how long it should last? If we want long-lasting products that retain their value, we have to support products that do so.

One last bit of absurdity on the YouTube front. Google recently threatened to sue a site designed to convert YouTube videos into MP3s.

  • How does Google's "computers deserve free speech rights" & shagging 3rd party content to fill out their own vertical search services compare against their approach when someone uses YouTube content in a way Google does not desire?
  • There are AdWords ads promoting free unlimited MP3 downloading & song burning bundled with shady adware.
  • Google's AdSense for domains funds boatloads of cybersquatting. While Google threatened to sue this particular site, they could have just took the domain due to it cybersquatting on the YouTube trademark. The fact that they chose to turn this into a press event rather than simply fix the issue shows that this is more for posturing.
  • Further aligned with the above point, while Google singled out a specific MP3 conversion site, there are other sites designed around doing the same exact thing which are PREMIUM ADSENSE PARTNERS, with the body of the page looking like this:

How Small Companies Are Taxed With Uncertainty

When Google decided to move away from direct marketing to brand advertising things that are often associated with size, scale & brand recognition became relevancy signals.

For big brands there is no shortage of companies trying to service the market that Google is favoring. For smaller companies it's a struggle. There are so many things to know:

  • how to create & pitch feature content
  • what do unnatural link warnings mean & how do I interpret reinclusion request replies?
  • how much to invest in marketing, where to invest it, how to balance the need for short term cashflow with the required reinvestments to build real (or fake) brand signals
  • how long does the market have left before Google enters the niche and destroys the opportunity that organic SEO once represented
  • should you run 1 website, or many to hedge risks? and how many is optimal?
  • how big should your site be?
  • if one of your sites gets penalized, should you try to fix it up, should you start over with a new site, or should you consider SEO to be a pointless goal?

Google mentions that they want people to do what is best for the user & not worry about Google, but that advice is a recipe for pain

If you do not run a large & authoritative website there are so many landmines to trip over with the increasing complexity of SEO. And any of Google's "helpful" webmaster messages can suspend a webmaster in fear, leading them to an eventual bankruptcy.

Small companies need to do all sorts of canonicalization hoops & prune content and such to hope to avoid algorithms like Panda. Then Google changed their host crowding preferences to let some large sites get up to 8 listings in a single search result page for their LACK OF effort. Those larger sites can then partner with glorified scraper sites that syndicate databases feeding on domain authority with no risk of Panda.

Due to how Google penalizes smaller sites, those that rewrite their content will outrank them when they get hit. These horrible trends are so obvious that even non-SEOs like Tim Carter (who was a Google golden boy for years) highlights how the tables have tilted away from what is most relevant to what pays Google the most.

The promise of the web (especially search) was that it could directly connect supply and demand. However, just like propaganda promoting the superiority of certain countries in the physical world, it is unfortunately fast becoming a myth.

If Matt Cutts Was Made of LEGO, What Would He Look Like?

Maybe something like this...

Matt Cutts Drawing.

...or this...

Matt Cutts Drawing.

A bunch more here, with cut & paste code near your favorites.

Consumer Ad Awareness in Search Results

Consumer Search Insights.

For the following study, we asked "Does this search result have ads on it? " to 1,000 searchers, per search results. Due to these surveys requiring a smaller image (to fit the ad unit size) we chose search results that generally had more ads on them (typically 3 or 4) so that the background had a significant portion of real estate devoted to ads, in spite of its small size. The one exception here was DuckDuckGo, as it only displays one ad at most even on highly commercial keywords like credit cards.

Other than resizing the search result to fit, the only modifications we generally made were removing the graphic picture from the Wikipedia page near the top of the DuckDuckGo SERP (since a prior study showed that users presumed there was a correlation between graphics and the perception of ads) and that in most cases we removed the right sidebar. We did include the sidebar ads on 3 different Bing, Google, & Yahoo! search results so that we could compare the impact of sidebar ads vs not having a sidebar.

Executive Summary

The 3 big takeaways are:

  • For most search engines, people are generally unaware of ads vs organic results if there are no ads in the right column ... most of these yes/no questions came down to about a 50/50 vote, even though all of them had ads on them. It is every bit as true today as it was in 2003.
  • If there is a right column, the percent of people who voted that there are ads on the page jumps significantly. Thus it is pretty safe to say that people think ads are in the right column & that the right column is ads.
  • Interestingly, among major search engines, Yahoo! (without sidebar) got more "yes, it has ads" votes than other search engines. In fact, Yahoo! without sidebar ads scored within 1% of Bing with sidebar ads.

Combined Survey Results

For the question Does this search results have ads on it?

search engine yes no
AOL 53.1% (+3.9 / -3.9) 46.9% (+3.9 / -3.9)
Ask 52.0% (+4.0 / -4.1) 48.0% (+4.1 / -4.0)
Ask Arbitrage 51.6% (+3.9 / -3.9) 48.4% (+3.9 / -3.9)
Bing 50.2% (+3.8 / -3.8) 49.8% (+3.8 / -3.8)
Bing w Sidebar 57.7% (+3.7 / -3.8) 42.3% (+3.8 / -3.7)
Dogpile 44.7% (+4.1 / -4.0) 55.3% (+4.0 / -4.1)
Duck Duck Go 52.3% (+3.9 / -3.9) 47.7% (+3.9 / -3.9)
Google 54.5% (+4.0 / -4.0) 45.5% (+4.0 / -4.0)
Google w Sidebar 62.9% (+3.6 / -3.8) 37.1% (+3.8 / -3.6)
Yahoo! 56.8% (+3.9 / -4.0) 43.2% (+4.0 / -3.9)
Yahoo! w Sidebar 59.8% (+3.9 / -4.1) 40.2% (+4.1 / -3.9)

User Voting Images

Here are the images users saw when they voted:



Ask Arbitrage SERP


Bing With Sidebar SERP

Dogpile SERP

DuckDuckGo SERP

Google SERP

Google With Sidebar SERP

Yahoo! SERP

Yahoo! With Sidebar SERP

Which SERP Has an Ad? (Maps vs AdWords Ads)

Prior to doing the above study, we asked users to please click on the search result which has an ad in it, listing search results side by side. Any bias presented in this (outside of both having smaller than actual sizes) impacts both images. At first we did a regular Google SERP where we included the branding & then we followed up with one that is more zoomed in on the actual search results but does not include branding. On the one that was less zoomed in people thought the map was an ad more often, but upon further zooming they thought it was roughly 50/50.

SERP All (1172) 
 Left 53.7% (+3.3 / -3.4)
 Right 46.3% (+3.4 / -3.3)

SERP All (1198) 
 Left 49.6% (+3.4 / -3.4)
 Right 50.4% (+3.4 / -3.4)

Comparing Google+ to Ads

Does this search result have ads on it?

layout yes no
Google+ without ads 56.3% (+3.1 / -3.1) 43.7% (+3.1 / -3.1)
Google+ with ads 56.9% (+3.2 / -3.2) 43.1% (+3.2 / -3.2)
large top ads w/o Google+ 53.6% (+3.2 / -3.2) 46.4% (+3.2 / -3.2)

Searchers tend to think that Google+ integration in the right rail is an ad unit. More people voted that Google+ without ads had ads in the search results than a SERP with 4 AdWords ad units and no Google+ integration.

Search Engine Ad Background Color

After seeing that users generally guessed no better than a coin toss at best in most cases, we decided to ask What background color do Google search results use to denote top left search advertisements? The same question was asked of Yahoo! & Bing search results.

Google All (1147) 
none, they are white 49.7% (+3.2 / -3.2)
blue 25.5% (+3.0 / -2.8)
yellow 10.6% (+2.3 / -2.0)
pink 7.0% (+2.1 / -1.6)
purple 7.2% (+2.2 / -1.7)
Yahoo! All (1080) 
none, they are white 44.6% (+3.4 / -3.4)
blue 20.9% (+3.0 / -2.7)
yellow 15.6% (+2.7 / -2.4)
magenta 11.2% (+2.5 / -2.1)
orange 7.7% (+2.3 / -1.8)
Bing All (1063) 
none, they are white 49.0% (+3.6 / -3.6)
blue 23.5% (+3.2 / -3.0)
yellow 13.0% (+2.8 / -2.4)
purple 7.5% (+2.4 / -1.9)
pink 7.1% (+2.4 / -1.8)

Bing scored highest, however blue also scored as the 2nd highest color for all 3 search engines. Nearly half of searchers believe that top ads have a white background, which highlights a general widespread lack of awareness of search ads.

Search Engine % Who Answered Correctly
Bing (blue) 23.5%
Yahoo! (magenta) 11.2%
Google (yellow) 10.6%

Ad Location on the SERP

Given how little awareness users have of ad background color, I decided to ask: Where might ads appear on search results at top search engines like Bing & Google?

Vote All (1144) 
right column 34.2% (+3.4 / -3.3)
all 3 locations 29.6% (+3.2 / -3.0)
search results do not carry ads 19.4% (+3.0 / -2.7)
top of the left column 9.2% (+2.5 / -2.0)
bottom of the left column 7.6% (+2.4 / -1.9)

Less than 3 in 10 answered the question correctly & nearly 20% of people do not think search results carry any ads, which explains how an algorithmic penalty can create a bad quarter, why Google was sued in Australia for misleading ads & why the Rosetta Stone vs Google case was overturned. Next time you hear a search engineer talk about clearly labeling paid links, ask them why they do such a poor job of it themselves!

User Trust in Ad Versus Organic Results

Ever since search engines have weeded out some of the more exploitative reverse billing fraud ads, trust in online ads has been growing. Based on the above, we wanted to see how users perceive ads vs organic search results, so I asked: Search engines include both algorithmic search results and ads in them. Which do you trust more?

Answer All (1168) 
I trust both equally 45.8% (+3.3 / -3.2)
Algorithmic search results 40.9% (+3.2 / -3.1)
Ads that appear in search results 13.3% (+2.5 / -2.2)

The above result surprised me given how people disliked money influencing search results. It is a strong compliment to the ads that only 40% of people trust the editorial more than the ads. However this number might be thrown off by the fact that many people are unaware of where the ads actually appear in the search results & what results are ads. (As noted above, most people voted that they thought that either search ads were only in the right column or that there weren't ads in the SERPs.)

Making Up for the Small Image Problem

One of the bigger issues with Google's current survey solution is that you are limited to rather small sized images. Such limitations do not harm asking a question like "what color does Google use for x" but they do make the search result a bit harder to see. To compensate for that problem we ran a separate survey on AYTM, where users were able to view a search result in full screen mode for 10 seconds & then they were asked 3 questions.

The purpose of the first question was to put a few seconds in between them seeing the image and them answering the second question. One other improvement that was made here (in addition to allowing users to see a larger sized search result image) was that we added an "I am not sure" answer to the questions. Below are the responses in table + graphic form, followed by the AYTM widget.

Where May Ads Appear on Google's Search Results Page?

Location Vote
in the right column 28.70%
top of the left column 6.20%
bottom of the left column 1.90%
middle of the left column 2.30%
search results do not have ads in them 6.80%
I am not sure 18.90%
right column & the top + bottom of the left column 35.20%

Did the Viewed Search Result Have Any Ads On It?

Answer Vote
I'm not sure 41.00%
no 12.40%
yes 46.60%

What Background Color Does Google Use to Denote Ads At the Top Left of Their Search Results?

Answer Vote
none, they are white 28.10%
blue 20.80%
purple 1%
I'm not sure 22.60%
pink 6.80%
yellow 20.70%

Even directly after viewing a search result with 3 ads in it, most users are uncertain of where ads may appear, what color the ads are, and if the search result even had any ads in it!

Users confusing the yellow background as white shortly after seeing it is anything but an accident:

In a RGB color space, hex #fef7e6 is composed of 99.6% red, 96.9% green and 90.2% blue. Whereas in a CMYK color space, it is composed of 0% cyan, 2.8% magenta, 9.4% yellow and 0.4% black. It has a hue angle of 42.5 degrees, a saturation of 92.3% and a lightness of 94.9%. #fef7e6 color hex could be obtained by blending #ffffff with #fdefcd. .

If you have an older monitor or a laptop which you are viewing at an angle these colors are nearly impossible to see.

Embed The AYTM Graph in Your Website

Here is the AYTM widget of the above 1,000 person survey, which you can embed in your website.

Embed Code:

How Many Search Engines?

Consumer Search Insights.

How many search engines do you typically use in a given month?

Most people only use 1 or 2 search engines in any given month.

Vote All (1223) 
1 48.9% (+3.1 / -3.1)
2 26.2% (+2.9 / -2.7)
3 9.1% (+2.2 / -1.8)
4 4.7% (+2.0 / -1.4)
5 or more 11.1% (+2.3 / -2.0)

There isn't much difference between men & women on this front.

Vote Men (669)  Women (554) 
1 49.4% (+4.0 / -4.0) 48.4% (+4.8 / -4.8)
2 25.5% (+3.6 / -3.3) 26.9% (+4.6 / -4.1)
5 or more 10.6% (+2.9 / -2.3) 11.7% (+3.8 / -3.0)
3 9.7% (+2.8 / -2.2) 8.5% (+3.6 / -2.6)
4 4.8% (+2.5 / -1.7) 4.5% (+3.6 / -2.0)

Surprisingly, older people are more likely to use a variety of search services while younger people are more likely to stick with their one favorite. I would have guessed that to be the other way around.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (295)  25-34 year-olds (300)  35-44 year-olds (165)  45-54 year-olds (204)  55-64 year-olds (182)  65+ year-olds (77) 
1 54.9% (+5.5 / -5.7) 57.7% (+5.7 / -6.0) 45.6% (+7.7 / -7.5) 50.4% (+6.9 / -6.9) 48.1% (+7.3 / -7.3) 35.8% (+11.5 / -10.1)
2 23.0% (+5.1 / -4.4) 23.0% (+5.4 / -4.6) 23.1% (+7.1 / -5.8) 22.5% (+6.3 / -5.3) 29.2% (+7.1 / -6.2) 36.8% (+11.3 / -10.1)
3 5.8% (+3.3 / -2.1) 5.5% (+3.4 / -2.2) 13.7% (+6.0 / -4.4) 10.5% (+5.0 / -3.5) 11.5% (+5.5 / -3.9) 7.0% (+8.0 / -3.9)
4 6.8% (+3.5 / -2.4) 4.7% (+3.3 / -2.0) 4.2% (+4.7 / -2.3) 4.9% (+4.3 / -2.3) 2.1% (+3.8 / -1.4) 5.4% (+9.1 / -3.5)
5 or more 9.6% (+3.9 / -2.8) 9.1% (+3.9 / -2.8) 13.4% (+6.2 / -4.4) 11.7% (+5.3 / -3.8) 9.0% (+5.2 / -3.4) 15.0% (+9.7 / -6.3)

Here is the geographic breakdown.

Vote The US Midwest (260)  The US Northeast (320)  The US South (374)  The US West (269) 
1 53.6% (+6.5 / -6.6) 45.1% (+6.1 / -6.0) 47.0% (+5.8 / -5.7) 50.4% (+6.4 / -6.4)
2 22.7% (+6.2 / -5.2) 27.1% (+5.7 / -5.1) 26.8% (+5.5 / -4.8) 27.9% (+6.1 / -5.4)
3 8.7% (+4.9 / -3.2) 11.4% (+4.8 / -3.5) 8.6% (+4.4 / -3.0) 8.2% (+4.8 / -3.1)
4 3.5% (+5.2 / -2.1) 5.3% (+4.3 / -2.4) 5.7% (+4.1 / -2.5) 3.8% (+5.4 / -2.3)
5 or more 11.5% (+5.5 / -3.9) 11.1% (+4.7 / -3.5) 11.9% (+4.5 / -3.4) 9.7% (+5.2 / -3.5)

Here are stats by population density.

Vote Urban areas (608)  Rural areas (107)  Suburban areas (499) 
1 48.1% (+4.5 / -4.5) 50.2% (+9.8 / -9.8) 47.2% (+4.7 / -4.7)
2 26.4% (+4.1 / -3.8) 21.2% (+10.6 / -7.8) 27.8% (+4.5 / -4.1)
3 9.1% (+3.6 / -2.7) 14.2% (+10.7 / -6.6) 9.6% (+4.0 / -2.9)
4 5.3% (+4.0 / -2.3) 6.5% (+12.0 / -4.4) 3.8% (+4.4 / -2.1)
5 or more 11.0% (+3.8 / -2.9) 7.9% (+11.4 / -4.9) 11.6% (+4.2 / -3.2)

Here is data by income groups. No obvious pattern here either.

Vote People earning $0-24K (132)  People earning $25-49K (673)  People earning $50-74K (326)  People earning $75-99K (70)  People earning $100-149K (27) 
1 45.0% (+8.9 / -8.6) 47.7% (+4.2 / -4.2) 50.2% (+6.1 / -6.1) 42.1% (+12.3 / -11.4) 48.3% (+17.9 / -17.5)
2 29.1% (+9.0 / -7.6) 26.3% (+3.8 / -3.5) 23.1% (+6.2 / -5.3) 35.2% (+12.2 / -10.5) 37.4% (+18.8 / -15.6)
3 8.7% (+9.1 / -4.7) 8.6% (+3.2 / -2.4) 11.6% (+5.8 / -4.0) 9.7% (+11.7 / -5.6) 0.0% (+12.5 / -0.0)
4 6.1% (+9.5 / -3.9) 5.2% (+3.2 / -2.0) 4.3% (+6.3 / -2.6) 2.6% (+17.0 / -2.3) 3.4% (+22.2 / -3.0)
5 or more 11.0% (+8.9 / -5.2) 12.1% (+3.3 / -2.7) 10.9% (+5.8 / -3.9) 10.4% (+11.9 / -5.9) 10.9% (+16.7 / -7.1)

Search Again or Click On the Second Page of Search Results?

Consumer Search Insights.

If you use a search engine but don't find what you are looking for, which are you more likely to do?

People are more likely to search again with a new keyword than they are to click onto the second page of search results.

Vote All (1189) 
search again with a different word 55.7% (+3.2 / -3.3)
go to the second page of the results 44.3% (+3.3 / -3.2)

The split is fairly consistent among men and women.

Vote Men (651)  Women (538) 
search again with a different word 55.4% (+4.0 / -4.1) 56.1% (+5.0 / -5.1)
go to the second page of the results 44.6% (+4.1 / -4.0) 43.9% (+5.1 / -5.0)

There isn't an obvious pattern among age either.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (284)  25-34 year-olds (309)  35-44 year-olds (144)  45-54 year-olds (195)  55-64 year-olds (150)  65+ year-olds (107) 
search again with a different word 52.1% (+5.7 / -5.8) 56.7% (+5.7 / -5.9) 51.7% (+8.0 / -8.1) 57.5% (+6.7 / -7.0) 61.4% (+7.7 / -8.4) 54.2% (+9.4 / -9.8)
go to the second page of the results 47.9% (+5.8 / -5.7) 43.3% (+5.9 / -5.7) 48.3% (+8.1 / -8.0) 42.5% (+7.0 / -6.7) 38.6% (+8.4 / -7.7) 45.8% (+9.8 / -9.4)

People in the west & midwest are more likely to change keywords, whereas people in the north east & south are roughly equally likely to change keywords or go to page 2 of the search results.

Vote The US Midwest (244)  The US Northeast (320)  The US South (363)  The US West (262) 
search again with a different word 58.6% (+6.6 / -6.9) 52.2% (+6.3 / -6.4) 51.7% (+6.0 / -6.1) 61.8% (+6.2 / -6.6)
go to the second page of the results 41.4% (+6.9 / -6.6) 47.8% (+6.4 / -6.3) 48.3% (+6.1 / -6.0) 38.2% (+6.6 / -6.2)

Suburban people are more likely to change keywords than to click on to page 2.

Vote Urban areas (590)  Rural areas (109)  Suburban areas (468) 
search again with a different word 51.8% (+4.6 / -4.6) 48.0% (+9.3 / -9.1) 61.1% (+4.8 / -5.0)
go to the second page of the results 48.2% (+4.6 / -4.6) 52.0% (+9.1 / -9.3) 38.9% (+5.0 / -4.8)

There isn't much of an income correlation either.

Vote People earning $0-24K (123)  People earning $25-49K (638)  People earning $50-74K (319)  People earning $75-99K (88)  People earning $100-149K (22) 
search again with a different word 57.9% (+9.3 / -9.9) 55.9% (+4.4 / -4.5) 58.8% (+5.8 / -6.1) 54.5% (+9.3 / -9.6) 50.0% (+21.4 / -21.4)
go to the second page of the results 42.1% (+9.9 / -9.3) 44.1% (+4.5 / -4.4) 41.2% (+6.1 / -5.8) 45.5% (+9.6 / -9.3) 50.0% (+21.4 / -21.4)

It would also be interesting to run this question again & include the option of trying another search engine as an answer.

General Consumer Awareness of SEM & SEO

Consumer Search Insights.

Which of the following have you heard of?

More people have heard of paid search / AdWords than have SEO / link building. One of the big issues with this question is that since it had numerous check boxes it had a lower response rate (roughly 10% vs an average of closer to 16% to 18%) & took longer for the answers to come in. In the future I can see Google adding quality score styled factors to quizes where pricing is in part based on response rate & they charge premiums for quicker responses. Anyhow, on to the results...

Vote All (1501) 
Pay Per Click 45.8% (+2.5 / -2.5)
AdWords 32.7% (+2.4 / -2.3)
SEO 21.3% (+2.1 / -2.0)
Link Building 15.9% (+1.9 / -1.8)
Ad Retargeting 14.9% (+1.9 / -1.7)

Men tend to have slightly greater awareness of SEO than women. That sort of makes sense given that most SEO conferences are heavily dominated by male attendees.

Vote Men (755)  Women (543)  Gender unknown (203) 
Pay Per Click 45.2% (+3.6 / -3.5) 45.7% (+4.2 / -4.1) 48.3% (+6.8 / -6.8)
AdWords 33.4% (+3.4 / -3.3) 32.2% (+4.0 / -3.8) 31.5% (+6.7 / -6.0)
SEO 24.8% (+3.2 / -2.9) 18.6% (+3.5 / -3.0) 15.3% (+5.6 / -4.3)
Link Building 18.9% (+2.9 / -2.6) 12.2% (+3.0 / -2.5) 14.3% (+5.5 / -4.2)
Ad Retargeting 16.4% (+2.8 / -2.5) 13.1% (+3.1 / -2.6) 13.8% (+5.4 / -4.1)

People in the 25 to 34 age range tend to be more aware of these terms than other age groups.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (229)  25-34 year-olds (316)  35-44 year-olds (162)  45-54 year-olds (227)  55-64 year-olds (182)  65+ year-olds (99) 
Pay Per Click 30.1% (+6.2 / -5.6) 50.3% (+5.5 / -5.5) 48.8% (+7.6 / -7.6) 44.9% (+6.5 / -6.3) 51.1% (+7.2 / -7.2) 51.5% (+9.6 / -9.7)
AdWords 37.1% (+6.4 / -6.0) 40.5% (+5.5 / -5.3) 32.7% (+7.6 / -6.8) 33.0% (+6.4 / -5.8) 22.0% (+6.6 / -5.4) 20.2% (+9.0 / -6.7)
SEO 21.4% (+5.8 / -4.8) 32.6% (+5.4 / -4.9) 29.6% (+7.4 / -6.5) 14.1% (+5.1 / -3.9) 13.2% (+5.7 / -4.2) 18.2% (+8.7 / -6.4)
Link Building 17.0% (+5.4 / -4.3) 17.4% (+4.6 / -3.8) 16.0% (+6.4 / -4.9) 15.9% (+5.3 / -4.2) 15.4% (+6.0 / -4.5) 12.1% (+7.9 / -5.0)
Ad Retargeting 12.2% (+4.9 / -3.6) 16.1% (+4.5 / -3.6) 17.3% (+6.6 / -5.0) 18.9% (+5.6 / -4.6) 11.0% (+5.4 / -3.8) 16.2% (+8.5 / -6.0)

The map is sort of all over the map...there are no easily definable regional patterns.

Vote The US Midwest (320)  The US Northeast (415)  The US South (432)  The US West (316) 
Pay Per Click 43.8% (+5.5 / -5.3) 47.5% (+4.8 / -4.8) 43.1% (+4.7 / -4.6) 48.7% (+5.5 / -5.5)
AdWords 33.1% (+5.3 / -4.9) 30.6% (+4.6 / -4.2) 33.1% (+4.6 / -4.3) 34.5% (+5.4 / -5.0)
SEO 18.1% (+4.6 / -3.8) 24.3% (+4.4 / -3.9) 19.2% (+4.0 / -3.4) 22.2% (+4.9 / -4.2)
Link Building 15.3% (+4.4 / -3.5) 13.5% (+3.6 / -3.0) 18.5% (+3.9 / -3.4) 16.1% (+4.5 / -3.6)
Ad Retargeting 13.8% (+4.2 / -3.3) 14.2% (+3.7 / -3.0) 17.1% (+3.8 / -3.3) 13.6% (+4.2 / -3.3)

People in urban areas tend to be more aware of SEM terms than rural people are. This is not particularly surprising since in smaller towns word of mouth and word around the town goes a long way (I used to live in a town of 1200 people) and in cities there is a lot more options than any one person can try & there is far greater noise/competition in the marketplace, both from a consumer and business perspective.

The "unknown" density category only had 32 total responses, so that is just noise.

Vote Urban areas (793)  Rural areas (113)  Suburban areas (563)  Urban Density unknown (32) 
Pay Per Click 45.4% (+3.5 / -3.4) 38.9% (+9.2 / -8.5) 47.8% (+4.1 / -4.1) 43.8% (+16.9 / -15.6)
AdWords 35.6% (+3.4 / -3.3) 27.4% (+8.9 / -7.4) 29.3% (+3.9 / -3.6) 40.6% (+17.1 / -15.1)
SEO 24.7% (+3.1 / -2.9) 15.9% (+7.8 / -5.6) 16.9% (+3.3 / -2.9) 31.2% (+17.3 / -13.3)
Link Building 15.5% (+2.7 / -2.4) 17.7% (+8.1 / -5.9) 16.2% (+3.3 / -2.8) 12.5% (+15.6 / -7.5)
Ad Retargeting 14.6% (+2.6 / -2.3) 19.5% (+8.3 / -6.2) 13.3% (+3.1 / -2.6) 31.2% (+17.3 / -13.3)

There are not many clear patterns among income (that surprises me as I would have thought there was a strong correlation). However, once again, the data is skewed to exclude most people with higher incomes, as there was only 1 response at > $150,000 / year.

Here is the opening chart, followed by the same chart

Vote People earning $0-24K (178)  People earning $25-49K (828)  People earning $50-74K (371)  People earning $75-99K (88)  People earning $100-149K (24)  People earning $150K+ (1)  Income unknown (11) 
Pay Per Click 43.3% (+7.3 / -7.1) 44.2% (+3.4 / -3.3) 48.8% (+5.1 / -5.0) 52.3% (+10.1 / -10.3) 50.0% (+18.6 / -18.6) 0.0% (+79.3 / -0.0) 45.5% (+26.5 / -24.2)
AdWords 34.3% (+7.2 / -6.6) 31.9% (+3.3 / -3.1) 35.0% (+5.0 / -4.7) 28.4% (+10.2 / -8.4) 20.8% (+19.6 / -11.6) 100.0% (+0.0 / -79.3) 45.5% (+26.5 / -24.2)
SEO 21.9% (+6.6 / -5.4) 20.4% (+2.9 / -2.6) 23.7% (+4.6 / -4.0) 13.6% (+8.7 / -5.7) 29.2% (+20.0 / -14.3) 0.0% (+79.3 / -0.0) 36.4% (+28.3 / -21.2)
Link Building 19.1% (+6.4 / -5.1) 16.3% (+2.7 / -2.4) 14.6% (+4.0 / -3.2) 12.5% (+8.5 / -5.4) 12.5% (+18.5 / -8.2) 0.0% (+79.3 / -0.0) 9.1% (+28.6 / -7.5)
Ad Retargeting 13.5% (+5.8 / -4.3) 14.1% (+2.5 / -2.2) 17.0% (+4.2 / -3.5) 12.5% (+8.5 / -5.4) 20.8% (+19.6 / -11.6) 0.0% (+79.3 / -0.0) 27.3% (+29.3 / -17.5)

Here is the chart again with those last 2 columns lopped off

Vote People earning $0-24K (178)  People earning $25-49K (828)  People earning $50-74K (371)  People earning $75-99K (88)  People earning $100-149K (24) 
Pay Per Click 43.3% (+7.3 / -7.1) 44.2% (+3.4 / -3.3) 48.8% (+5.1 / -5.0) 52.3% (+10.1 / -10.3) 50.0% (+18.6 / -18.6)
AdWords 34.3% (+7.2 / -6.6) 31.9% (+3.3 / -3.1) 35.0% (+5.0 / -4.7) 28.4% (+10.2 / -8.4) 20.8% (+19.6 / -11.6)
SEO 21.9% (+6.6 / -5.4) 20.4% (+2.9 / -2.6) 23.7% (+4.6 / -4.0) 13.6% (+8.7 / -5.7) 29.2% (+20.0 / -14.3)
Link Building 19.1% (+6.4 / -5.1) 16.3% (+2.7 / -2.4) 14.6% (+4.0 / -3.2) 12.5% (+8.5 / -5.4) 12.5% (+18.5 / -8.2)
Ad Retargeting 13.5% (+5.8 / -4.3) 14.1% (+2.5 / -2.2) 17.0% (+4.2 / -3.5) 12.5% (+8.5 / -5.4) 20.8% (+19.6 / -11.6)