Google has crossed the Rubicon: mixing paid listings with organic search

Google has begun to mix sponsored results in with its search results in an experiment with businesses in Houston
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor
Google maintains a division on its search pages: organic results on the left, paid-for 'sponsored' results on the right. For years this has been a very important division because it means that Google's organic search results are untainted by lucre. They are selected on the relevantcy of the pages to the search term -- not on how relevant they are to Google's revenues. Yet it seems that this division is dissolving. Google is running an experiment in Houston where local businesses can buy a listing for a flat $25 a month. The New York Times reports on the experience of the Kingpinz Skateboard shop: [These battle lines are drawn in Yellow.]

Mr. Cowie is trying something new: for a flat fee of $25 a month, he is making his listings on Google stand out. Whenever his shop comes up in a search page or on a Google map, it is adorned with a bright yellow tag.

It's working pretty well:

Just type “skateboards in Houston” on a search engine, and his store will be among the first listed.

But take a look at the Google search results page:
Google has paid results in 'organic' search results

Google has paid results in 'organic' search results

This shows a 'sponsored' result in the left hand column. What's going on? Is this a smart business move? Mr Cowie was paying Google as much as $2,000 a month for search ads. Now he pays $25 a month and gets better placement! Is it worth it for Google to lose the trust of its 'organic' search, even though it is labeled 'sponsored' -- for just $25 a month, when it was getting as much as $2,000 a month?!
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