David Berkowitz of 360i published an interesting article today over MediPost’s Search Insider, provocatively named Google to PPC Branding: Drop Dead, in which he talks about Google’s decision to stop serving premium sponsored links at the top of genuine search results after a few page reloads. The article says about 10 reloads, but I’ve seen the effect after as few as 3. Google’s reasoning seems to go, if someone is clearly not going to click on a sponsored ad, why serve them?
This closes a loophole that Chris Anderson explored in this Cheating Google 101 in which he reasoned if he could get thousands of impressions and no click-through, he was getting free branding. Google gradually closes the loophole, now in two ways. First, they raise the cost-per-click on underperforming ads. Second, they reduce the overall impressions among surfers not predisposed to clicking ads. Fewer ads coupled with higher cost-per-click equals greater need to “optimize” PPC campaigns.
This creates an interesting dynamic in which relevant ads that create click-through (and probably those which convert more–but that’s speculation) become less expensive. Because you’re converting more, you have more feedback, more money, and more encouragement to continue optimizing your campaigns and raising your budget. It’s a classic example of success breeding success–and search results becoming more relevant as a result.
This dynamic also increases the value of the natural search results, merely by virtue of there being less advertising clutter for those searchers determined to not click ads. Hold out against clicking ads long enough, and you stop receiving ads–brilliant! Imagine a TiVo that detects that if you’re skipping over commercials frequently enough, it starts editing out commercials. Marketers could only get their message across if they got into the TV shows through product placement or guest appearances.
The links between natural search engine optimization and public relations continue to sharpen.