Robert Scoble, in a recent blog post, cracked the Google monetization code on the search results page. In a conversation with an unnamed Googler he found that Google can afford to dial down the presentation of top sponsored ads because they're just more efficient at monetizing the traffic. Of course, this shouldn't come as news to anyone who read our last eye tracking report. We went into great depth about Google's ability do more with less when it comes to sponsored advertising on the SERP.
I'm feeling a little blue in the face, but at the risk of repeating myself yet again I'll make the point. Relevance at the top of the page is a sacred cow. The Area of Greatest Promise which occupies a tiny little triangle in the far upper left is the landscape you have to focus on if you want to present the best search user experience. For an in-depth walk-through of what the Area of Greatest Promise is and how it impacts the user experience, check out last week's Just Behave column on Searchengineland. Also check out The Importance of Consideration Sets, the column I wrote the previous week. If you want to know how Google does more with less, you have to understand the basic fundamentals of user behavior on a search engine.
The fact is, when you look at Google's ability to monetize the page they are leaps and bounds ahead of both Yahoo and Microsoft in this regard, yet they are by far the least aggressive than presenting sponsored advertising at the top of the page. The result? They keep scanning highest on this top real estate. They have higher click through on both first-time visits to the page and repeat visit. They don't break user scanner behavior into two distinct paths, but keep it concentrated in the Golden Triangle. The result is that when they do choose to show sponsored ads in this area, they have much higher levels of engagement and click through over the entire interaction with the search results page, not just the first visit to the page. If you use the overall user experience as your metric, higher monetization will come as a natural result. The minute you try to force monetization by hijacking valuable real estate for purely commercial purposes, without consideration for what the user wants, you start eroding your revenue channel. It's no great secret. Pony up 149 bucks and you can buy a 200 plus page report showing you exactly how Google does it.