The Implications of Google's New SERP Layout
by Geoff Hineman
Recently, Google changed the way it presents paid ads on the search engine results pages (SERPs) by eliminating text ads on the right side of the page. The new layout features up to four ads at the top of the page (above the organic results) and more at the bottom of the page (below the organic results). This is a seemingly simple change, but the implications and reasons for the change stand to have a lasting impact on your marketing business model. Before we get into the short- and long-term implications this change carries, let's take a moment to look at the reasons for the change. In a word, it all comes back to one factor: mobile.
Google’s Mobile Push
First, we should note that Google regularly makes changes that some view as total Armageddon for search marketing, yet we all seem to weather the storm just fine. Still, changes in the last couple of years have continued to send a clear signal that Google sees the future of search to be very mobile-centric and has changed its algorithm—and now SERP layout—to capitalize on the growth of mobile. One could even argue that the changes Google is making are even accelerating the growth of mobile search. To quickly recap:
- Google made site speed a ranking factor to encourage webmasters to create sites that load faster, which is a much greater factor in mobile search than desktop search.
- Google announced that organizations without mobile-friendly sites would be ranked differently (i.e., demoted) in searches originating from mobile devices.
- Google Hummingbird and RankBrain updates place a greater emphasis on understanding search intent, rather than simple keyword matching. These changes are in direct correlation to the increase in voice searches on mobile devices.
- Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project encourages webmasters to create pages that follow a bare minimum of coding (along with certain other guidelines set forth by Google) to encourage quicker page loads. Sites that employ these AMP pages are already getting preferential treatment in mobile search results.
For several years, the most significant changes at Google have clearly been mobile-related.
Near-Term Effects of Google’s New SERPs
The most recent change is the way Google SERPs display text ads, as described earlier. This will affect your PPC campaigns and your SEO campaigns alike. By changing the SERPs this way, Google eliminated a lot of text ad real estate, creating scarcity. We all know what happens when demand exceeds supply: prices rise. With that said, we fully expect that bids for certain keywords will rise and that rise may be felt disproportionately in more competitive keyword terms. Something to keep in mind, however, is that WordStream has culled data stating that fewer than 15% of right-side ads get clicks anyway. So, if you are in a space that isn’t very competitive, this change may not have much of an impact on your campaign. Further, Google is now allowing all text ads to use sitelink extensions, location extensions, call-out extensions, and so forth. Previously, these were only available with top-of-page ads. This change to the SERPs will effect more than just text adds. It will also have an effect SEO—one that may be even more noticeable to your traffic, and therefore, organic revenue. The addition of more text ads at the top of the page—all with the ability to have numerous extensions in place—pushes the start of organic (e.g., non-paid) listings further down the page. This decreased visibility means your site will likely start seeing less organic traffic, even if your keyword positions haven’t decreased. To illustrate the point, try a search for “car insurance.” If you are like most desktop users, you won’t see a single organic result until you start scrolling down the page.
What All of This Means for Your Organization
First, if you are currently running a PPC campaign with us, you should know we are diligently evaluating campaign data to see what changes have occurred with the removal of right-side ads, as well as to what degree they’ve changed. As you know, we strive to find the “sweet spot” in ad position, where our bids are competitive and achieve the best return. As ad positions change, so too must campaigns. Our goal remains the same: to deliver you the best return on your ad budget. Next, if you are not running a PPC campaign, but instead just relying on your organic results to generate traffic, we strongly suggest you consider starting a PPC campaign sooner rather than later. If you are running an SEO campaign, you already know we have put greater emphasis on content creation in the last year. This is to address the Hummingbird and RankBrain changes mentioned earlier and also to give your site a greater range of potential search queries on which to be found. As ad positioning decreases the visibility of organic search results, this horizontal approach to optimization is perhaps the best tactic to mitigate that decrease. If you are not running any type of digital marketing campaign, you are taking a considerable risk. We offer a great array of digital services, including PPC, SEO, eMail, Social Media, and more. Each works in concert to help insulate your business from changes like this current SERP layout change.
Expect more mobile-centric changes from Google. Google makes its money from ads. Always remember that. All of these mobile-centric changes from Google tell us that Google is banking on the continued rise of mobile search as the number one place where it can increase its own revenue. Unlike everybody else, however, Google has the ability to influence mobile search. For the rest of us, mobile is something that simply cannot be ignored any longer. Make sure you have a mobile-friendly site. Make sure your site-load times are continuing to get faster. Make sure your site is tied to social media, as many users have smartphones loaded with their favorite social media apps. Make sure your content is efficient; it doesn’t have to be short, but it also shouldn’t be longer than it needs to be just for the sake of filling the page. As always, if you have questions about these changes and the best ways to navigate them, we would be happy to discuss strategies with you. For more than 20 years, our goal has always been client success. The landscape may change, but our goal never does.