SearchEngineLand and SERoundTable, the distinction between natural and paid results on Google has gotten a little less clear recently as sponsored listings have started to appear on Google.com's local business results. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Screenshot © Rustybrick"][/caption] In a statement to SearchEngineLand, Google confirmed that although the listings were enhanced, they did not affect the ranking of listings (as frequently happens on some other search engines, such as China's Baidu.com). There has certainly been a lot of debate on whether the "enhancements" of unpaid listings make them fully-fledged adverts or not, and we would tend to come down on the side saying 'yes'. Although the listings would be present regardless, the enhancement give them a lot more "eyeball appeal" and divert attention away from the standard listings. Google's policy of increasing its monetisation potential wherever it sees the opportunity seems likely to produce lots more cases of paid listings popping up in expected places. Aside from catching the user's attention the "enhancements" seem to serve no purpose other than making Google money - you can already click through to the relevant website using the standard listing. This is a pretty fundamental difference to the normal sponsored listings, where a potentially relevant link is being shown where otherwise it might not have been found. Google has always claimed that improving user experience is its guiding mantra; historically this has meant decluttering and simplifying pages to make them easier to decypher (to the extent where the number of words on the homepage is strictly limited). Can they use the same argument for these changes? If their statement is anything to go by, it seems they can:
"This experiment is intended to help us understand whether this is a useful experience for our users. This feature is currently in a limited trial, and as with all tests, we may make changes to our current experiment in the future."How a yellow box and a duplicate link on the listing for a website, assigned purely on the basis that they have paid for it, could potentially be useful for searchers is anyone's guess.