Question: Is it in the best interest of the search engines to keep cost per click rates on their paid ads high?
As much as search engines seem to dislike SEOs due to a large number of them that spam the system I firmly believe that SEOs also help search engines produce better results. Maybe I’m wrong on this (I’m sure most of our clients would believe I’m NOT wrong) and perhaps that is a different discussion, but for now let’s just assume this is a correct assumption.
SEOs (those that don’t spam) help produce higher quality sites than what search engines would have found otherwise. As long as there are high-quality SEOs that are working toward that goal in particular the search engines win—as long as they can weed out the sites that don’t improve search relevance.
Again, assuming this is true, if placing paid ads via AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing gets cheaper (its not!) than the costs involved to optimize a site for top placement, this will put the quality SEO industry out of business. (No, this is not another “SEO is dead” cry!)
As Google and other engines attempt to give more control to those who place ads (this is a good thing!), that control will cause ad prices to fall. Recently Google rolled out the ability to control which sites can or cannot syndicate any web site’s ads. This kind of control will not only increase relevance of ad placement (again, a very good thing) but will also help site owners to control click-thru and conversion rates better. Being able to place ads in more strategic places is a big win for the ad buyer.
Let’s make another assumption: Being able to control listings will drive cost per clicks down to a point where paid ads are actually cheaper than SEO. In some niche industries, this is already true, and could be come true for many other industries as well.
If that happens, what is the need for quality SEO? And if there is none the only types of SEO that are left will be those that can do mass spamming of the system on the cheap. Cheating is always cheaper than doing it right, which is why there are so many SEO spammers out there. Take away the quality SEOs and the only thing separating spammers from top rankings is the algorithm.
Try as they might, search engines still can’t eliminate spam completely and often times fail in magnificent proportions. If you eliminate higher cost SEOs that help produce quality sites rather than junk sites, who then is going to spend the time building a supremely optimized site? Let’s not forget, a site that performs supremely from a marketing perspective often times fails to perform in search engine rankings. If you take away the incentive to create a site that works well on the marketing side of things AND the search engine side of things, the search results will be left with quite a large amount of spam in their index, regardless of how well their spam filters work.
I’m not predicting any of this will happen, just playing the what if game. But it does allow for an interesting question, that being the one asked in the first paragraph. Are the search engines better off keeping cost per click relatively high, both from a financial perspective and a search results perspective?