Google have done it again…
Online marketers like us will tell you how many times they have pulled their hair out when Google released an algorithm update. With each update, strategies have to be re-evaluated and tweaked as website rankings in search results reshuffle in major ways, and this year we have already seen Google coming on strong in this area.
Google’s recent change to the search landscape this time is of a very different nature, but of far-reaching consequences. After six years of testing and tweaking, the search engine giant has decided to remove all right-hand sidebar ads on desktop queries, worldwide and in all languages, with two exceptions: Product Listing Ads (PLAs – not yet available in NZ) and ads in the knowledge panel.
In addition to the existing three spots for paid ads at the top of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), there will more consistently be multiple paid ads at the very bottom of the page, after the organic results. Also, for highly commercial searches such as “car insurance” for example, a fourth paid-for ad will appear at the top of the page. This makes a total of 7 ads, as opposed to the 11 that used to be able to show on first page, a reduction of 36%.
On the other hand, organic results will now be weighted to showing below the fold and will have less space to display, especially when geographical search results are displayed. This makes the first page much more difficult to reach organically.
What brought this change about?
When you are one of the most famous brands on the planet, it is most likely that the main motivation behind this change is a mix of customer experience and commercial benefits.
Back in 2013, Google started encrypting their search queries which meant that organic search results were no longer accessible by default, only those for Adwords terms. This was, obviously, a move to nudge businesses towards paid-for ads and an attempt to push bid prices higher.
Studies have also shown that people skim web pages in an “F” pattern, paying less attention to the information to the right of the screen. This means a lower click-through rate on a prime location, and less revenue for Google. The move towards having additional ads in the main section of the screen, especially at the very top, is undeniably an attempt to maximise profits through increased engagement with paid ad slots. And you can bet that Google has undertaken considerable testing and data analysis to ensure that this is the case. With a Google statement from back in 2011 indicating a lower click through rate for right hand side ads versus ads at the bottom of the SERP.
What does this mean for marketers and website owners?
In terms of organic optimisation, the single factor that is likely to have the most impact is that there will be less space for organic results and it will therefore be more difficult than ever to be on the most-coveted first page. Furthermore, a fourth ad at the top will push more organic results below the fold, almost to the point where only paid-for ads will be visible above it – dependent on your screen size. However, this new layout is how mobile browsers have displayed results for some time, so the move could be thought of as a standardisation between devices. What this does indicate is that investing in a solid long-term SEO strategy will be more important than ever.
As far as Pay-Per-Click and AdWords campaigns are concerned, we expect to see a bit of variance and fluctuation in performance as advertisers react to the news of the update. However it will be interesting to observe if bid costs rise significantly, as whilst the competition for fewer spots increases, with a better layout, engagement with ads are expected to improve and so CPCs may not have to rise to maintain a satisfactory ad rank.
In the case of advertisers previously occupying the right hand side results, they will certainly lose out and will need to up their bids or improve their performance in other ways in order to regain visibility on the first page. However with their smaller budgets they won’t significantly push CPCs up for the higher ad positions.
Google’s success was built on the fact that they provided relevant results based on the quality of the content, over other search engines whose goals were very evidently commercial and who pushed ads. With this latest change, it may well be that they have somewhat sacrificed user experience for profit and will have to deal with some negative reaction from customers.
Or, seeing as the changes to desktop SERPs have been the reality for mobile devices for some time now, perhaps it won’t be such an unfamiliar experience for users of the search engine who also spend a lot of time browsing on the go.
If you would like to understand how this change could affect your website, and how we can help you to navigate this new situation, contact This Side Up on 09 360 2299.