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5 Ways Google Might Monetize Natural Search Results

Money_serpOne topic you don’t hear much about is monetizing natural search engine results. Lately however, I’ve been thinking about it in regards to Google. The vast majority of search behavior (roughly 70%) is taking place on the natural links -- and this pattern seems to be rather stable.

I don’t anticipate most of these ideas happening in the short-term (with the possible exception of numbers 4 & 5) however if GOOG ever desires an additional and very large revenue stream they are sitting on a veritable gold mine.

There are five ways I can see for Natural SERP monetization to occur.

1. Paid Inclusion (Result): We know this works very well for Yahoo both publisher and advertiser side. Most SEMs would do PI all day if they could. Back when I managed spends we used to laugh at how high the ROI from PI was and would have paid 5x for it. There is huge potential here and despite what would be a Google neer-do-well outcry it’s likely searchers wouldn’t notice or care.

2. Paid Inclusion (Index): Even if publishers paid for index inclusion it would still be the highest ROI traffic they receive. I realize this is a fundamental philosophic shift however there has been a fundamental power shift towards Google’s eyeballs and away from publishers content. I don’t think it would be unreasonable for Google to charge for indexing pages in much the same way it charges for some API calls.

3. Link Icons: Brands can pay to put their logo next to a natural result. We’ve already seen this with Yahoo, it’s commonplace with affiliate aggregators and the idea in search goes back to the late 90’s. If I were Google I would think about this for brand related queries. They could probably get away with it and sell it for a really high CPM or monthly fee. Surely it would increase CTR and help get brand dollars into search.

4. Driving Traffic to Contextual Ads: Made famous by MFA sites (Made For Adsense) this strategy would work (is working?) with more legitimate sites like Boston.com and New York Times. All that has to happen is Google adjusts the algo to drive more traffic to sites that serve Google contextual ads. This would easily raise click volume on the ads.

5. Driving Traffic to Display Ads: Don’t think for a second that only contextual ads can benefit as mentioned above. Now, and especially with the pending DoubleClick acquisition Google can drive targeted search traffic to targeted display advertising increasing impression volume, click volume, CTR and ROI.

I’d love to hear more ideas in the comments.

Why am I only writing about Google? I don’t care about natural results in regards to Yahoo, Live and Ask. On a personal level traffic to my blog and company websites is over 95% Google. On a client level natural traffic from search engines besides Google is thin and getting thinner every quarter. In fact if I were Yahoo, Live and Ask I would immediately implement every monetization strategy mentioned above. It’s possible they would deliver more relevant results AND generate more revenue.

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Comments

I disagree with (4).

You say that Google should give preference to sites that run Adsense, however, you neglect to take into consideration the exisiting Adwords customers. Adwords customers, generally speaking, are also playing the organic game, and one thing a company does not want to do is tick of it's customers.

Furthermore, how reliable would Google's results be if they were altered via giving preference to sites that have adsense on them?

To me this pointer is the type of characteristic you see in negatively perceived monopolies. Something a positvely perceived monopoly should steer away from.

Ther rest of the pointers are interesting, would be even more interesting to see if they ever are implemented.

As you implied, (4) is already happening, not in terms of Google giving preferential organic ranking to AdSense-monetized sites, but via the direct monetary incentive for achieving high rankings that AdSense created in the first place.

Anecdotally, I don't think you can find a Google search result these days in which none of the first 10 results have AdSense in them; while I've never come across a study on this, I'd bet that 20-30% of organic search click-throughs go to sites that monetize primarily via AdSense.

IMO, there is a very, very, very strong indication that an algo change is somehow responsible for, One Boxes (froogle/Maps) AdSense and huge advertizers like eBay, bizrate (more in the past) and search "partners" like local directories (yellowPages.ca and I belive the trader group of pubs owned by YLO.UN) occupting top of fold real estate. I belive it is a "trust" bump and this or similar appearances of "partners" has happened every shopping season since the infamous Florida update. I think it also bumps Wikimediocrity er... Wikipedia jump as well.

Good gracious! Why not settle for goog running the entire online world!

I am appalled that it has come to this that we/you would accept such as monopolized and money grubbing greed fest, for our once beloved open and brave new world we called the Internet.

I agree that there will be shifts toward Google "offering" paid opportunities for organic listings. One indicator is Google's investment and growth of their free Webmaster Central. This tool has been rapidly adding features over the last 9 months. One interesting feature is the ability to manage site links which allows the few site have these to adjust what Google displays. I could see Google offering the option to pay for the inclusion of these to organic listing.

While there are many paid schills on the Net floating ideas of extaordinary self serving benefit in order to direct the stage of public opinion, I certainly would hope this is not the case here!

Great Comments! Thanks.

Stefano thinks (4) will never happen - Chris says it's happening already.

Stefano- you're right to bring up AdSense. Any of us in SEO that survived the Google Florida update remembers that lesson.

Terry- You're right too. OneBoxes (and I'd add Universal Search) are already showing that Google is taking traffic for its own self benefit.

Adam- Thanks for bringing Webmaster Central into the conversation. I have to say I'm not that familiar with the SEO tools of today. Ironically I stopped doing natural SEO shortly after that Florida update in Fall of 2003.

Fritz- I would hope to have some order of direction on public opinion. That's why I have a blog!

I shill for an industry called digital marketing and if I have any say about it more people will do it and they'll do it way better than they're doing it now. It would make life experiences online more pleasant (relevant) for all of us.

Perhaps I'm preaching to the wrong crowd. Everyone here seems very willing to accept the premise of further erosion of free Serps, which were the foundation of the original equal access Internet.

Maybe I'm asking too much of you. Perhaps none of you were around in the 90's to see the glory days when the playing field was indeed equal, and the little guy not beholden to the corporate giants of business for their existence. So goes the control of the Internet, over polite resignation such as this chat. A slippery slope indeed!

Giving a stamp of approval to any new methods of enhanced corporate Serp control, shouldn't appeal much to anyone with some genuine overview!

Discuss possible future scenarios if you like, but for goodness sake, take some stand on what is in the best interest for all concerned, not what is just in the interest of monopolistic Juggernauts.

Good luck here!

Fritz-

The 90's were fraught with SPAM, pop-ups, cloaking, malware to name a few -- all of which came from among other things the black hat tactics of "Free" search. Was this an equal playing field? I was a white hat SEO and I can tell you it wasn't since I was always tempted to change teams. I never did though. Those are the 90's I remember in Search.

Also, don't imply that I endorse these ideas. I see nowhere where I make that claim and that was not the intention of the post. But let's be real. GOOG is a public company under market pressure to continue it's huge revenue growth. A much different company than it was a few years ago.

Jonathan


Thank you for clarifying your original post for me. Unfortunately to me, it did seem you were endorsing/condoning the ideas presented.

I'm happy to hear you are also not part of the Juggernaut approval team! There are a new version of black hats out there now, and they're having a field day with their assimilation techniques ;-) ;-)

Thank you for clarifying your original post for me. Unfortunately to me, it did seem you were endorsing/condoning the ideas presented.

I'm happy to hear you are also not part of the Juggernaut approval team! There are a new version of black hats out there now, and they're having a field day with their assimilation techniques ;-) ;-)

#4 is defacto happening now because spammy adsense sites are monetarily incentivized to apply SEO (black and white hat, whatever) to ge placed highly.

And those spammy adsense pages (with little useful original content and mostly adsense ads) are the biggest negative, for me, of using Google Search.

Yes, they have a golden goose, but you can kill it if you try to eek too much out of it. Just look at how crappy About.com is. It's becuse its 80% ads on each page. As soon as ads actually *cost* the user something (in terms of usability) you run the risk of cooking that [golden]goose.

And the irony is that I'm guessing about.com advertisers had diminishing (or even negative) returns on adding more and more ads. Beyond a certain point the ads are so intrusive you just block them out.

Moderation in all things, especially advertising.

Updated the map page to use Google maps. You can now link right to Google maps and enter your address for directions, zoom in and out, use the terrain setting or satellite setting.

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