Google SERP Changes

February 26th, 2016 in Performance Marketing 5 minute read

Now that the big Google bomb has dropped and the dust has settled, what can we expect to see from the new layout to the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and what was the rationale behind these changes Google have made?

Google’s analysis of Adwords performance indicated that Ads serving into the top 3 positions received the majority of clicks and provided more relevant results for commercial queries. The idea is for advertisers to create more consistent Ads across all devices better reflecting user flow.

They also saw that Side Ads had low user interaction rates compared to top Ads (accounting for less than 5% of overall conversions). Side Ads had mainly contributed towards accruing impressions rather than resulting in clicks and they had seen more productive results from Bottom Ads with an increase in CTR (Click Through Rate).

Will the new layout effect all device traffic?

The changes will only effect desktop searches. Tablet devices have been using this layout for some time already and there will be no changes to the delivery of mobile Ads.

Shopping Ads will not be changing either although Google do expect the SERP changes will have a positive impact on them due to a less ‘cluttered’ advertising.

Will we always see 4 top Ads? 

No. This isn’t applicable to all markets. Four Ad’s will only be seen across a small percentage of commercial based queries with high Ad depth. For example, where a user is looking for a product or service e.g. [accommodation in Brittany] as opposed to a general query [things to see in Brittany].

What is the maximum number of Ads we will see now?

The maximum number of Text Ads on a page is now seven, delivered as follows:

  • 4 Text Ads at the top of the page
  • 3 Text Ads at the bottom of the page
  • No Ads on the side of the page

For advertisers who have been averaging between position 3 and 4 (dependant on budget), the recent changes will offer a quick, initial gain. Click traffic and CTR’s are likely to increase in the short term, however CPC’s (Cost Per Click) are also likely to increase as competition between a top (position 4) and a bottom placed (position 5) Ad heats up.

Google have suggested that they expect to see little change in advertisers click rates for those who had previously been averaging Position 5-11. Logic would seem to suggest otherwise however.

If an advertiser had previously targeted position 8-10 as a result of CPC or budget limitations, then this area will no longer be available to them. Instead they will become reliant on major players Budgets or Ad Schedules ending to provide them with an entry into the market (likely to be the low value, low volume hours that the major players have opted out of). 

How can I maintain or improve my Ad Position?

Here’s our top recommendations:

  • Top of the page advertisers should be monitoring CPC bids and making increases where required to improve visibility in the top and bottom positions. Advertisers who have set their bids artificially high to ensure top positions are likely to see some fluctuation as other advertisers test bids increase.
  • For advertisers averaging position 4, you should be monitoring and optimising budget towards the potential of additional clicks received through moving into a top of the page ad position.
  • Position 5-11 bids will need adjusting accordingly to meet performance goals. Bids will need increasing in order to achieve a top of page/bottom of page ad.
  • RLSA (Remarketing List for Search Ads) and Customer Match campaigns will provide the opportunity to increase bids for the more valuable users more likely to convert.

How to get the most out of your Ads

Extensions will be more important than ever to define and make an ad more appealing. Each ad will now be able to show up to 3 extensions at a time. For advertisers previously averaging between positions 4-7, extensions were not a visible commodity.

However, with the new SERP structure, extensions will be available to all advertisers. An intelligent, strategic approach to the use of extensions can create multiple unique selling points as well as increasing an advertisers digital footprint.

Google will be also be relaunching the two-line sitelinks format and deprecating the two-expanded sitelinks format they originally launched in November 2015.

What should my next steps be?

  • Take a data capture of previous results and note the traffic volumes recorded for both positions 1-3 and 4+. Use this as a benchmark to monitor your traffic in the coming weeks and months as the general public become more used to seeing this new layout (it may not be so glaringly obvious to some that there are ads at the bottom of the page at first).
  • Work with your agency to identify areas where additional extensions and formats can be utilised or how Quality Scores can be increased through optimisation in order to improve general Ad Rank.
  • Evaluate whether additional clicks and conversion have been profitable and revaluate operating budgets if necessary.

In Summary

Whilst the loss of impressions will not be a major concern to most advertisers in the top 3, any decline in conversions will send alarm bells ringing. These changes will create a more competitive market being and it is hard not to see how CPC’s and conversion costs will increases at some level. The next few months should start to indicate to us just what level this is likely to be.

What do the changes mean for search engine optimisation?

The change in the layout of SERP’s means less distraction from organic listings, which is widely welcomed by SEO’s. It will only become more important for businesses who were happy on position 4-10 in paid results to make sure they rank organically as well.

Ads will never disappear fully from the SERP’s as it’s a massive revenue stream for Google, but it’s about time for businesses relying on paid ads to have a think about the consequences they might have to face when the way ads are displayed change.

This change reinforces the way paid search and organic search should always work together as part of a future proof marketing strategy. PPC is a great direct response channel who will always exist (although perhaps displayed slightly differently) but together with SEO it is the only way to ensure visibility in search results regardless of what Google throws at us.

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