It was a wintry night in 2004 (guessing here) when my longtime Page Zero colleague Dean Towers poured the paid search advertising Kool-Aid and opined to me: “frankly I think the ads are way more relevant and compelling than the so-called organic or ‘real’ search results… when I look at the other stuff, I just see a mess of junk!”
In particular, Dean was referring to the “metadata” or “description” parts of the organic SERP’s in the ten blue links, which remain a pile of crap. Google, as you know, has this lovable way of yanking snippets of text from the page instead of using meta descriptions, etc. It’s a workaround to avoid nonexistent or spammy description tags, to be sure, and they are to be lauded for that. It’s also fugly. I’m looking at a screen right now and seeing a “description” that includes a mishmash of a date, a rambly beginning of a description of what’s on the page (impressive to be honest), and – ugghhh, breadcrumb navigation, heavy on the crumbs. Some of it’s impressive. It’s still fugly.
In the advertising world, and obviously this only matters to the user if they have something approaching commercial intent, you have tight benefits statements and calls to action.
So anyway, it’s not the ugliness and the yecchiness that are the only issues with today’s ten blue links organic results on long tail and torso terms: it’s also the relative lack of rules.
Plenty of pages with commercial intent creep up pretty high in the results, depending on the term. I can’t give you an example because I don’t want to give props to sketchy businesses!
Suffice to say, I have never sided all the moaning about Google AdWords Landing Page and Website Quality guidelines, though I will side with the “wrongly accused”. The advertising part of Google is so great because there are strict rules!
I’m looking at a page that ranks high in organic on a commercial term (not uncommon at all) that would be slapped silly by Quality Score. It’s got nasty promotional language with one of those long, scrolling pages, it’s got weird, deceptive navigation; the list of gimmicks employed is long. I don’t see any keywords in that account garnering higher than a Quality Score of 2. You’re talking about eight bucks per click, minimum, just to show up a few times a day in the advertising program. The reason is the website and the landing page — not competition or keyword selection.
Yet here is this awful, consumer-unfriendly page, lah-de-dah’ing its way up to the top of the SERP’s.
It’s no coincidence that the recent New York Times brouhaha illustrated Google has a long way to go to fix relevancy problems in the organic results. That’s due to the degree of difficulty: the Web is humongous; you have to make sense of it all and you’re supposed to be comprehensive.
By contrast, the world of paying advertisers, though large, is a finite world of known players with credit cards, physical addresses, and other real world relationships with the search engine peeps.
Google’s advertising programs — due to their clear vision, rules, and market principles — are still a great win for both users and consumers.