One topic you don’t hear much about is monetizing natural search engine results. Lately however, I’ve been thinking about it in regards to Google. The vast majority of search behavior (roughly 70%) is taking place on the natural links — and this pattern seems to be rather stable.
I don’t anticipate most of these ideas happening in the short-term (with the possible exception of numbers 4 & 5) however if GOOG ever desires an additional and very large revenue stream they are sitting on a veritable gold mine.
There are five ways I can see for Natural SERP monetization to occur.
1. Paid Inclusion (Result): We know this works very well for Yahoo both publisher and advertiser side. Most SEMs would do PI all day if they could. Back when I managed spends we used to laugh at how high the ROI from PI was and would have paid 5x for it. There is huge potential here and despite what would be a Google neer-do-well outcry it’s likely searchers wouldn’t notice or care.
2. Paid Inclusion (Index): Even if publishers paid for index inclusion it would still be the highest ROI traffic they receive. I realize this is a fundamental philosophic shift however there has been a fundamental power shift towards Google’s eyeballs and away from publishers content. I don’t think it would be unreasonable for Google to charge for indexing pages in much the same way it charges for some API calls.
3. Link Icons: Brands can pay to put their logo next to a natural result. We’ve already seen this with Yahoo, it’s commonplace with affiliate aggregators and the idea in search goes back to the late 90’s. If I were Google I would think about this for brand related queries. They could probably get away with it and sell it for a really high CPM or monthly fee. Surely it would increase CTR and help get brand dollars into search.
4. Driving Traffic to Contextual Ads: Made famous by MFA sites (Made For Adsense) this strategy would work (is working?) with more legitimate sites like Boston.com and New York Times. All that has to happen is Google adjusts the algo to drive more traffic to sites that serve Google contextual ads. This would easily raise click volume on the ads.
5. Driving Traffic to Display Ads: Don’t think for a second that only contextual ads can benefit as mentioned above. Now, and especially with the pending DoubleClick acquisition Google can drive targeted search traffic to targeted display advertising increasing impression volume, click volume, CTR and ROI.
I’d love to hear more ideas in the comments.
Why am I only writing about Google? I don’t care about natural results in regards to Yahoo, Live and Ask. On a personal level traffic to my blog and company websites is over 95% Google. On a client level natural traffic from search engines besides Google is thin and getting thinner every quarter. In fact if I were Yahoo, Live and Ask I would immediately implement every monetization strategy mentioned above. It’s possible they would deliver more relevant results AND generate more revenue.