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Google Search is only 18% Search

Sep 3 2012 :: by Alex
I was recently testing some of the keywords and positions for our hosted help-desk app and it suddenly occurred to me that 80% of the page were not actually the search results. Check this out:


My brain got used to filtering the ads out, so it never popped into my head before... We are used to this picture. I actually had to get up from my laptop, grab a coffee and then glance back at my monitor from across the room to notice this.

ADs vs Results: area size


Now, we're all technical people so let's do the math:
  • The screenshot above is 1280x960 pixels (a typical resolution for a 13" wide-screen laptop and some older 15"s). My Mac has a 1920x1200 resolution, but still I prefer not to browse in full screen (actually, the only apps I run full-screen are the development ones - Sublime Text, Visual Studio, XCode etc.).
  • The search results take up 535x425 pixels.
  • Which makes it 18.5% of the window

I do understand that this stuff is resolution-dependent, but still... Only 18.5% of the screen is devoted to something that people are actually looking for.

Let me show you what "18.5% of the screen" really looks like:


ADs vs Results: UI elements count


Now, enough with the area size. Let's count the links - the clickable text UI elements.


The page has about 45 different links in total. Only 5 of them are the actual search results (I do not count the "sitelinks" - the sub-links shown under some results and ADs). Which makes it about 11%. Only 11% of the total links on the page are the actual search results.

(If we do include the "sitelinks", it makes 57 links, 10 of which are the results, which is 17.6%).

OK, let's be fair, some of the links are the tools ("Google Docs", "Gmail"), some are search modifiers ("Search near...", "Search images"), some are Google-Account utilities ("Sign in", "Settings") so let's drop these links and buttons... Let's count only the "blue stuff". I.e. links that "look like" the search results, not including the "sitelinks". We have 18 links in total. 5 are the results. Which is 27%.

The bottom-line is: even dropping all the "secondary" UI-elements, the Ad/Results ratio is almost 4-to-1.

Was it always like this?


Unfortunately, I was unable to find a screenshot of Google's result page back from the late 90s, but found some stuff from the 2000s. I did an image search for "large" images, dated "before 2008", searching for "google results", "serp page" etc. Obviously, I was not able to find a screenshot for these particular keywords ("saas help desk"), so I tried to find a screen with as many ads as possible. Since "saas help desk" turns out to be a pretty competitive term. Here's what I found.


The AD/Results ratio is 8 links to 7. Which is 47% of the links are the actual results.

Now, the area. The results are 779x595 pixels. The total size is 1108x790 (which is even smaller than my original screenshot). Which makes it 53% of the screen is taken by the results, more than a half (actually, even more, since it's a smaller screenshot and there are no more ADs below the fold).


What does this mean?


Google has cut down the results area by three times - from 53% to 18%. The company is obviously interested in people clicking more ADs (in fact, I believe that's also the true reason behind "Penguin" and "Panda") since it's the company's primary source of income...

But all I know is that in the early 2000s Google has become the #1 search engine because of the three things:
  1. Relevant results
  2. The speed at which they were served
  3. The simplicity of the UI
Looks like they're dropping #3 now. Is Google becoming a Yahoo? 'Google Search is only 18% Search' was written by Alex by Alex. CEO, founder