The Next Wave Of Google Algorithm Changes

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It sounds like Google’s algorithm is going to change again, and while I don’t believe in chasing the algorithm, I do find the impacts on our industry interesting, but even more so the impact it has on user behavior.  The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of changes to Google to get people to stay on site longer to compete against Facebook may actually be a bad strategy for Google and more importantly bad for people.  The article implies Google is slowly moving to an answer engine to compete against Siri, and becoming more semantic in nature.  While I think for the end user this may be a great idea, it may actually hurt Google financially and it will be interesting to see how this evolves.

So how might this impact Google’s wallet?  In the simplest terms Google’s revenue comes from clicks.  The way the WSJ talks about these changes to the user experience, Google will provide more content that requires less clicking.  Surfacing content to searches, if clicks decrease revenue decreases.

A Primary Source of Revenue

Google’s revenue stream today comes from the hunt and peck approach of clicking links and then validating if the page or content is relevant by the user.  The argument in favor of this working out in the long run is that most searches are not actually transactional in nature, and therefore probably don’t have relevant ads showing up on them.  While Google says they want to be able to push more relevant ads, the truth is they still make money on non-relevant ones as well, but they only get money if they get clicks.

So what does this mean to you the search strategist?  This means from a paid perspective you may see an increase in CPC.  Why? Because the competition for clicks will still be as high as before, but the number of available clicks will likely be decreasing.  This also means that anyone that employs a top of the funnel strategy where they try and win customers in the discovery or research phase of their purchase cycle are likely to see some drops in traffic.  Even more challenging is that Google will now control the message to the consumer instead of leaving it the variety of sites to earn the trust of the user that may actually offer more diversification than Google’s classifications will.

Here’s an example scenario.  Say I searched for “things to do in Toronto”.  Google’s results may include:

  1. A list of recommended hotels.
  2. The top 5 attractions
  3. The population
  4. The geographic size
  5. Other facts about the city.

The hotel list doesn’t really change from local results, but the top 5 attractions, what impact does this have on tourism?  Instead of getting a link to a page that may be able to cover a great variety of events, and attractions, we’re now stuck with Google’s Top 5 list.  Whether we realize it or not Google is slowly turning our lives into lists, and if you’re not on the list you’re not relevant.

This is why there was a boom in local search when this was introduced.  There will be a boom again as it becomes clearer what types of lists Google will focus on.  How about entertainment? Or restaurants? Or events?  How much of a coincidence that most of these things also have clear schema’s developed?

The Impact to Your World

We know changes to the algorithm also have real world impact as there are countless stories of complaints every time the algorithm changes. Users trust Google so implicitly they don’t question if Google still deserves that trust.  As Google gets better at recommending answers and things to do, will users actually get dumber?  Will users become more homogeneous?  Google already starts to suggest what you should search for as you type, and now they display the results.

Even if Google says they see 20% of searches as new and unique, what volume actually makes up the short head?  Further is the head growing?  Or are there specific categories of searches that are growing and easily classified? I assume we’ll know as we start to see these search results show up.

Why is it a Bad Thing for Google to Keep Users on Their Site?

It means users aren’t exploring the bigger world.  Today a search and a click through can result in a new set of questions, or you can be delighted by clicking a link and not getting what you thought you wanted; but reading about something unexpected that triggers a different search instead.  While I don’t think Google is going to impact what users do over night and society as a whole, the fact is Google and more importantly search and the way it impacts our lives can dramatically change what and how we think and learn.  If you spend time on Facebook it’s because you want to read about friends, play games or share things about yourself. If I spend more time on Google it’s because I need answers, and while I want them to be as relevant as possible, I don’t mind when Google’s wrong at times, that’s part of the fun of Googling, but I do look forward to the next round of complaints from our industry as Google changes the rules again.

Brent Chaters
Brent Chaters is senior manager Marketing Strategy & Analytics at SapientNitro, where he works with multiple Fortune 500 clients where he focuses on establishing ROI... Read Full Bio
Brent Chaters
Brent Chaters

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  • Alexander Conroy

    I disagree that these changes are going to effect search as much as you suggest.

    If I am searching more than once for an answer on Google, chances are I am not going to click on an Advertisement as I am looking for something specific. The small percentage of advertisement clicks usually comes from users who are not looking for something in particular that requires more than 1 or 2 searches.

    The time that is freed up by finding what I need quicker, can be used to search for other things, instead of wasting time going through pages of results not getting what I want. Google has always put an importance on putting the most relevant information forward. The reason being is it secures their position as search king. Sure, they may get less page views or click through PER KEYWORD, but there may be an overall increase or security of general traffic to many different keywords as less time is spent per search.

    As to users getting dumber, this is the case whether or not you can find the search result first. The entire trend of technology is to dumb it down so that people who don’t normally use tech, or shun it, will start to use it, I would assume that a lot of these are the primary source of revenue and click in Google PPC. 😉 (Just opinion).

    The more people use the search engine the better, the better the search engine the more people using it, period. Better means both faster and more relevant to the user, which includes both ads and organic results.

    • John Gunn

      Excellent points Alex. I agree and would add that if Google can entice me to conduct three relevant searches, and bring up 3 SERPs, for every single seach I would have done in the past, then everyone is a winner and the CPC might actually decline, at least the conversion rate and ROI should improve. I also don’t agree with the concept in the post that getting lost is good, “you can be delighted by clicking a link and not getting what you thought you wanted” – no way. Few people ever enjoy getting lost while searching or driving, and not getting what one wants is another way of saying disappointment. Your last point says it all.

    • Brent Chaters

      @Alex at one point I’d agree that relevancy was important but with the push of ads, other changes Google has made recently the organic results are starting to show up almost at the fold of most browsers. Aaron Wall had a great post on this challenge at SEO Book. Google claims relevancy but then they push all the ads out. We also know that they aren’t hurting in the wallet after they post each quarters earnings.

      For the end user I think relevancy and quality is key, Google’s shift has been to get more ads displayed more often to drive more clicks. What I was trying to get at is how this change back to the consumer may impact both Google financially, and the end user’s experience, and agree on the users that click on PPC.

      There’s just something in my gut that tells me this change isn’t going to be better for the consumer necessarily. Google’s gone from innovative to reactive recently. Google+ a reaction to Facebook. This change to semantic search is in my opinion a reaction to Siri. When you worry more about the other guy than simply being the best, is when you start to stumble. The winner of the race isn’t looking over his shoulder he’s looking at the finish line.

      Plus I can’t wait to see all the complaints about how the change is “ruining SEO”, and believe me those posts will be coming. In my opinion this actually will impact PPC more and improve SEO, but time will tell.

  • kadmiel

    Truth of the matter is google is still on top and those that only rely on PPC ad clicks from goolge are going to have to change their minds on the way they prsent things. but, then again googles pmarket share before panda was a whoping 74% now post panda age they are down to 66% so it seems eiether the competition is getting better and people are using alternative search engines, or google has opted to display more ads makeing it harder for searchers to find revelent information in their displays. Resulting in them going to other search enginges as a result.

  • Samrat

    Thanks for the update Brent,
    Interesting to know Google is changing their algorithm again. Do agree, there could be revenue drop for blogs on niche and technical topics as most of the times relevant ads are not displayed. However rule changes might not impact some of the blogs that are based on common/general topics.


  • Khush

    Siri kind of Google artificial intelligence will eventually suggest websites where detailed answers can be found. I don’t see it as threatening. But yep, if people get used to it they will turn lazier than ever. Some sites like ehow probably will be hurt, but that is only if the bot ends up saying or writing how to do something step by step.

    I dont trust the answers of Google completely. One time when it started raining badly Google showed me that in my area we were having clear sky. And yep, their driving directions are half the time wrong. That’s why I wont be taking their bot seriously. With this intelligence, Google has to prepare itself to get sued. I am sure the answers will be stolen from other websites.

  • Anna

    I’ve been hit and so has my google adsense revenue…..yes my site had a lot of ads, that was the purpose of it. Darn it! 🙁

  • Anders Chun

    Really helpful! Thanks for the update!

  • Norm

    I think the egg came first. Improving search results, I don’t think will cannibalize their Ad revenue. Making Google more of a destination will bring more searches, and more searches will mean more clicks, and more alternative revenue streams. Google doesn’t just show relevant search results. They show diverse search results. PPC will always be one type of result, and getting people to use Google more, I think will likely increase revenue.

  • Ajay Kumar Singh

    Dance on Google’s tune, or build a new search engine which can make Google obsolete.

    The only thing Google cares now a days is money. When they started they were good, interface was pretty simple search result were more relevant. SEO was still in it’s infancy.

    Now SEOs have polluted search results and so Google is tightening the noose and playing ping pong game with SEOs.

    There doesn’t seem to be any way out of it.

    Very interesting and thoughtful article.