Aaron Harris, the founder of Tutorspree, a tutoring marketplace that went under a few years ago, wrote a blog post in 2013 declaring the death of organic search. Because Tutorspree went under, that blog post is also gone, but I wanted to recreate his bootstrapped UX study showing the organic search results that led Aaron Harris to conclude that organic search is dead. As it turns out, 2 years later, the 2015 organic search results are a little better.
But, and this is a big but – attributing pixel percentages to search results real estate isn’t as easy as Aaron Harris claims. For example, let’s look at his 13% claim – that is, in his 2013 study, he claimed then that only 13% of search results for “Auto Mechanic” is organic. Below is his image:
Based on pixel percentages, Aaron Harris claimed that 13% comprised true, bonafide, organic search results. But, at closer inspection, the first link is from Wikipedia, explaining what an auto mechanic is. The remaining two search results are for actual local auto mechanic shops. Now, let’s look at the 2015 version:
I didn’t place percentages to the search results. Here are a few observations:
- The majority of the search results is advertising.
- Of the organic search results, we get a map, with 3 locations. These are actually helpful. If one searches for an “auto mechanic”, the most likely search intention is that the searcher is looking for a local auto mechanic shop to visit because their car is in need of some repair. Returning 3 on a map with some star reviews would be helpful to me as someone in search for an auto mechanic service.
Now let’s look at the search results side-by-side:
On it’s face, the search results page in 2015 doesn’t look that much different from the 2013 version. But, with closer inspection, it’s a little better. Not much, but a little better.
Aaron Harris then does a search for “Italian Restaurant”. The 2015 search results versus his test back in 2013 provide the most evidence that the Google search results have, indeed, improved. Below is a side-by-side comparison of Aaron’s 2013 search results and mine in 2015.
I actually did the search several times, from different locations, including incognito, because the search results for “Italian Restaurant” was so sparse – no ads at all, but just relevant local results for Italian restaurants in my location of South Jordan, Utah. In fact, it’s crazy how there’s so much white space in the search results. Wow.
Mobile Search Results
Aaron’s next test is mobile. He claims that Search = Mobile = Local, which I completely agree with. If you search on mobile, local is clearly the most likely intention of the searcher. This test had the most surprising results from his 2013 results. In fact, mobile search, in my opinion, has improved the most since 2013. Here’s his test in 2013:
In his 2013 article, he claims that he had to go through 4 entire mobile search results to finally see organic results. In his words,
Open your iPhone. Search for “Italian Food.” What do you see? If you’re in NYC, you see zero organic results. You see an ad unit taking half the page, and then a Google owned Zagat listing. Start scrolling, you’ll see a map, then Google local listings. After four full page scrolls, you’ll have the organic listings in front of you.
In my mobile search test, all Google presented to me for “Italian Food” was organic search results. Granted, I was not in Tribeca New York, but in South Jordan Utah. Clearly there will be differences in results. But, I think the principle remains true: 2015 mobile search results in indeed better than what he found in 2013. Here’s page 1 of my mobile results for “Italian Food”:
As you can see, the mobile search results from my perspective were very helpful: local, with reviews, and contextually relevant.
While these search result tests are not scientific or even designed as such, I think my point is clear: relative to 2013, the 2015 search results are better. I feel a little weird being an apologist for Google but, objectively, the results are surprisingly better. And, that’s good for Google, Companies, and Us.