Recently Google launched a significant change to search results, specifically they changed how many paid ads appear. Previously Google AdWords controlled the space above, below and to the right of traditional organic search results. Depending on the query, mostly consumer product related, shopping results would appear as well. Google has now updated this format so that on non-highly commercial queries the ads above and below organic results remain, but the right-hand side ads are gone.
Google continually tests its own platform - large or small, desktop or mobile - and as the company gathers information about user behavior over time it rolls out changes in response to that user behavior. In this case, Google had previously tested the removal of right-hand side ads with a small set of users in an attempt to create a common user experience between desktop search results and mobile ones. Due to the smaller screen space, paid ads on mobile always appear above and below organic results.
This update is significant in its size as it affects all queries world wide and is likely to have a major impact on not just the AdWords campaigns being run but, too, organic search results.
Impact on Paid Ads
Paid ads see a direct change. The first impact is a reduction in ad inventory, or the number of ads shown on a page. Previously ads controlled three spots above organic search results, or positions 1 through 3. Ads on the right-hand side were known as positions 4-11. In some cases ads were also shown below the organic search results, and those were positions greater than 3 as well.
For the most competitive industries, advertisers are going to be fighting to appear in the top 1-4 positions so more aggressive bidding could lead to higher CPCs (cost-per-click). But with that you can expect an increase in performance, as the top group of ads generally have the highest CTR (click-through-rate). Ads below the organic results might see fewer impressions and a lower CTR while the commercial based, Product Listings Ads could see higher CPCs and more impressions in the right-hand side.
It’s also more critical now to be utilizing all relevant extensions with ads. For a while Ad Extensions such as Sitelinks, Call and others have had an impact on ad rank, but they weren’t eligible to be shown in right-hand side positions. With extensions showing a lot more now, it’s important to make sure all relevant extensions are being used and performing well.
Above all, it’s vital to watch respective industry and competitive space over the coming weeks. Adjust accordingly - budgets, bids, launch extensions you might not otherwise have been using - or test the ones you currently have. If you feel AdWords becoming too expensive now, consider looking into Bing Ads (much lower CPCs) or test the waters with social ads.
Organic Search Results
The AdWords update has an impact on organic search results as well: when 4 ads show on top, organic results will get pushed down. When you combine an additional ad in the top position, multiple extensions that expand the space they occupy (Sitelinks, Location, Reviews, Callouts, Structured Snippets), and other non-paid elements such as maps, photos, Google News traditional organic search results can get lost. Therefore, it becomes even more critical to maximize every opportunity to showcase your page and generate clicks.
The graphic above is just a snapshot of highlighting what’s possible for basic search results. Depending on the content you create, a variety of Rich Snippets are available:
- Products - if you’re an ecommerce site, product pages can show average star ratings, the number of reviews, price and stock availability can show
- Reviews - if your content reviews products, you can display the rating and who wrote the review
- Events - if your site includes event listings, this snippet will show the date, name, and location of the event
In addition to content that is eligible for Rich Snippets, consider all other channels that might be available to you - image or video search results, Google Maps and local business listings, app indexing, or news results.
Even before Google made this change to remove right-hand side ads in favor of positions above and below organic search results, it has been critical to take advantage of every channel available to you. Just as Google tests, analyzes and adjusts its product you must observe these updates, test, analyze and adjust both your own website and channels like PPC. Be ready for when Google, or any other platform, makes an update again in the future.