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If you’re not advertising, you’re not in the game

We all know that Google shows very different search results pages nowadays if the search makes clear what the nature of the query is. For example, a search for ‘what is a blue widget’ will probably show a big panel at the top which attempts to answer that. A search for ‘buy a blue widget’ will show lots of shopping adverts with pictures. A search for ‘blue widget suppliers’ will result in a local map with suppliers marked. All of these appear above the traditional links, possibly relegating them out of sight without scrolling.

It turns out that for consumer products, searchers are quite sophisticated – possibly without realising it. If we want to find out what different types of, say, mattresses are available, we’ll type in that question. If we’re researching products and suppliers, we’ll search for ‘mattress reviews’. And if we want to find out where to buy one, we’ll go for ‘buy mattresses online’ or ‘mattress shops’. We don’t tend to just search for ‘mattress’ and hope Google will magically work out our intent.

However, in technical products and services, I don’t think things are the same. Look at your own Google Search Console reports and I suspect the number of searches for your equivalent of ‘blue widgets’ will easily outnumber searches which show their intent. The searches we all dream of (‘buy blue widgets’, ‘blue widget suppliers’, etc) are usually much rarer than just ‘blue widgets’.

So what does Google understand the intent to be, in the face of a search for ‘blue widgets’? Increasingly, I see it trying to cover as many bases as possible, including a real emphasis on the adverts. A typical results page might have four adverts at the top, a Wikipedia result (explaining what blue widgets are) in a panel below that, and a big panel of shopping results over to the right. If you scroll down, the first two or three results could be explanatory, followed (eventually) by a handful of results from suppliers, taking up less than 20% of the page area. Then a few questions, and more adverts.

As a business, Google is getting this just right. You can’t complain, when it’s trying to provide something for everyone, yet quite frankly, if you’re not advertising (and spending a considerable amount to be up the top), then commercially, you’re not really in the game. And that’s just what it wants.