For years, Google was famous for its clean, uncluttered layout and its excellent search algorithms. Those days are long gone.
Google gets 96% of its annual revenue from advertising. Search results produce no revenue. That has led to some tremendous distortions and a horrifying breakdown in the once-clean Google experience.
I present Exhibit A, which I discovered thanks to Twitter.
If you’re signed in to your Google+ account and you search for pet meds, a little ad module appears at the top of the search results, with your email address already filled in.
I’m sure there are other search terms that will lead to similar results, but this is the first one I’ve seen.
The idea of pre-filling the lead-generating form is a little creepy, but technically there’s no privacy violation. After all, I gave Google my email address and used it to sign in, and they’re not sharing it with anyone unless I click the Get offers button.
But here’s what was more disturbing about those search results. I captured a screen shot showing the results page as it appears on a notebook with a 1366 x 768 screen—one of the most popular display resolutions available today. See if you notice anything odd (click to open the screenshot in its own window if you want to study it more carefully):
There is only ONE actual search result on that entire page. If you want to see the rest of the search results, you have to page down.
Surrounding that link are nine ads, plus a link to a PetMeds user account at Google+. There are 10 links to Google services at the top of the page. Below that is my Google+ profile picture (which leads to my Google+ account settings) and a big Share box.
That’s a total of 23 links on that page, as it appears on a typical computer. Only one is a search result.
That’s just wrong.
Update: As @BleepinComputer notes on Twitter, this is ironic, given Google’s January 2012 public statement on this exact issue, published on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog:
[W]e’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.
Huh. Imagine that.