Google’s Latest Changes Affect Paid & Organic Search Results


Google recently revamped the advertising layout within its search engine result pages (SERPs). These changes affect how both paid and organic search results display on those pages.

Cutting Ad Space
Traditionally, Google served desktop paid search ads in one of three places within the SERPs:

  • Top — above the organic results
  • Bottom — below the organic results
  • Side — on the right-hand rail

Previously, consumers saw up to 11 ads on any given SERP, which allowed for a good deal of competition. With these latest changes, Google eliminated the right-hand rail and increased the number of ads shown above the organic results from three to four.

Much in the same vein as mobile paid search results — where ads are limited to two per query — there is now an even more finite amount of paid search real estate in the desktop SERPs. Along with the ads shown above the organic results, consumers still see ads below the organic results — a maximum of three per query. The total number of possible text ads for any query has shrunk from 11 to seven (four on the top, three on the bottom).

Don’t Panic
Members of the search community panicked at Google’s announcement and worried over its far-reaching effects. The changes will affect paid search, but not as greatly as many feared. A leading paid search analyst reviewed ad performance over time and estimated that the right-hand rail accounted for only about 7 percent of all paid search clicks. Additionally, ads on the top positions received a 14 times higher click-thru rate on average compared to other ad positions. This means the top three positions have historically — and should continue to be — the locations that offer the best combination of efficiency and volume.

But Be Aware of Some Caveats
From a paid search perspective, marketers need to keep the following in mind:

  • Google’s changes could force some previously fringe competitors (i.e., lower budget advertisers occupying positions three to 11) into deeper waters. Brands should keep an eye on inflated cost per clicks (CPCs).
  • Advertisers could start to see a dip in impressions, since their ads might make it into fewer auctions.
  • Google noted that all advertisers in the top four positions — not just the ad in the top position — are eligible to show ad extensions. Advertisers should enable applicable extensions.
  • Marketers should review their CPCs and overall performance data from a time-of-day perspective (i.e. dayparting) to capitalize when they can.
  • This change frees up space (literally) for Google Shopping to own a larger presence. If brands are considering launching or optimizing a Google Shopping campaign, now would be an opportune time.

Create Relevant Content for SEO
The increase in paid search ads at the top of SERPs pushes organic search results further down the page. In most cases, those results are pushed below the fold completely.

This newest change, along with the increased presence of vertical results (Local, Images, News, etc.), is undoubtedly putting more pressure on search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, as those remaining spots are even more precious.

Brands need to work harder to become relevant with their available real estate, including and especially within vertical results, in order to stay competitive. Now more than ever, it is vital to generate site content that resonates with audiences in both traditional SERPs and vertical SERPs in order to build relevance and increase overall visibility where users are searching.

When a company as large and powerful as Google makes changes, those doing business with it must adhere. While the search giant’s latest tweaks to its SERPs might seem daunting on first glance, marketers can minimize the effects with smart strategy and quality content.

Image via Malta Today.

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Chris Reebie
Chris Reebie

Chris is a director on the search team at Empower, where he has been helping brands successfully devise, implement and manage their paid search initiatives for almost a decade across a wide variety of industries including retail, consumer packaged goods, pharmaceuticals and education. His forward-thinking tactics focused on the areas of bidding, targeting and testing have helped ensure his clients can successfully navigate the hostile waters of the highly competitive paid search industry.