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Revisiting Search Engine Ad Breaks

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Originally, the news of Google's broad matching change had me thinking that Google was adding more ad positions to their search results pages. I've since talked with Google and understand now this isn't the case. I've broken what is happening into a new story. Meanwhile, I think this story is still a useful reminder on the number of ad positions each search engine offers across the board.

Here's the rundown I did from June 2004:

2004

Paid Links

Free Links

Total

% Free

Yahoo

8

20

28

71%

AOL

8

10

18

56%

MSN

9

11

20

55%

Google

10

10

20

50%

Ask

11

10

21

48%

Average

9

12

21

56%

And the situation today?

2006

Paid Links

Free Links

Total

% Free

Change

AOL

8

10

18

56%

0%

MSN

8

10

18

56%

1%

Ask

8

10

18

56%

8%

Google

11

10

21

48%

-2%

Yahoo

14

10

24

42%

-30%

Average

10

10

20

51%

-5%

Google*

14

10

24

42%

-13%

The two big players -- Google and Yahoo -- have decreased the percentage of free listings shown. To be clear, on Google, you still have the same ten free listings shown since Google began, but they've added another paid spot. On Yahoo, you have 10 less free listings than they used to show, plus they've added more paid spots.

Aside from number of ads, the positioning is an issue. Google's long had many ads running down the side of its page, something the other major players have all largely imitated. To me, that's not been irritating, because plenty of editorial listings were still "above the fold" or visible without scrolling.

In contrast, dumping ads on the top of pages might drive users away. Ask used to do this quite aggressively, as Ads On Ask & Could Paid Listings Take Prime Position? from last year covers in more detail. Ask Jeeves to Reduce Paid Ads covers how Ask pulled back on the ads because it found fewer ads boosted user retention -- at least in the US. In the UK, they'll still run up to four ads at the top of the page and five below.

FYI, Google did increase from two to three ads at the top of results last August (it also has been testing ads at the bottom of pages since November).

For the record, here's the current top-bottom-side breakdown in chart form:

2006

Top

Bottom

Side

Paid Links

% Top

AOL

4

4

0

8

50%

MSN

3

0

5

8

38%

Ask

3

5

0

8

38%

Yahoo

4

2

8

14

29%

Google

3

0

8

11

27%

Average

3

1

5

10

36%


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