Back in the day, Google’s motto was, “Don’t Be Evil.” The company grew tremendously because they offered something that was lacking online: A way to find information quickly. Lately though, I find their offering to be diminuted by their need to generate revenue. This infographic by Wordstream highlights the fact that Adwords ads dominate search results for keywords with “high commercial intent”. Whether the results are accurate or not, it has no doubt become obvious that Google is now solely responsible to shareholders, not users; just do a search for “credit cards.” I have a big screen, and it’s still eaten up by ads and Google Offers. Additionally, Google’s ads are becoming harder to distinguish from organic results. The background color of ads has changed many times over the past decade, and is now a pink that renders white on most screens. Searchers don’t even realize that they’re clicking on an ad, not a search result.
I always use my brother as a case study of “Joe Internet User”. I’m surrounded by tech savvy people that know how the internet works, so I need a “layman” to understand how everyone else uses the web. My brother starts his web experience by searching Google for the url he wants. Yes, he Googles “www.facebook.com” to get to facebook. When I watch him search for something, he invariably clicks on the first ad. He lands on a page selling something, then clicks back. I always get the, “wait, I know it’s here somewhere” line. Then he goes on to other ads until he finds what he’s looking for. Then I get the, “check this out” line. Google’s earned $0.50 and the publisher of the great content has earned who knows what. Accidental ad clicks? You bet. Money well spent.
Now, I understand that the Google is a public company and they have to constantly grow earnings, but given how integral they’ve become in our internet life, it seems wrong somehow to deviate from what made them so great pre-IPO: finding things online. Wordstream’s data suggests that they are more a servicer of highly targeted ads than a killer search engine.
I don’t want to buy traffic from Google, but I may not have a choice. Nolo has got 13 expert editors, 70+ freelance lawyers, and forty years of experience creating the best legal content available, but it may not be an economical business anymore. When it costs an average of $120 per page to produce just a simple article, and the only people finding it are coming from Google at an eight percent click-through rate (even though we rank number one), the potential conversion just doesn’t make it possible.
What if we could no longer afford to offer free legal information?