Two cents blog

Has Google gone too far with their changes to search?

by Dave Mooney on 26 February 2016

Yep, it’s true. Google has recently made some big changes to its search engine results page (SERP for short). Earlier this week Google announced that effective immediately there will be big changes to the way its users interact with the results page. Now to be honest, for your average user, it would possibly go unnoticed, but for those of us in the digital marketing landscape, what does it actually mean? The truth is that at this stage we can only speculate as to how it will impact campaign performance and SEM strategies, in the meantime here are some answers to the big questions…

What on earth happened?

Well you might notice that when you were searching this time last week there were results on the right hand side of the page:

google1

Now they’re gone:

google 2

 

Essentially Google has decided to change the layout of its search results in order to bring it in line with its mobile and tablet interface. The ads from the right hand side of the page have been cut out and from now on will only show three ads at the top of the search page (or four ads for searches deemed to be ‘highly commercial’) as well as three results at the bottom of the page.

Ok cool, but why?

Well there is a lot of debate on this topic. The truth is that only Google really knows the answer, however we can make some pretty informed guesses as to the reasons. At the end of the day, Google AdWords is an auction based advertising system. Without getting too deep into how it all works, the more competition there is for a keyword, the more money you need to bid in order to be considered for the top advertising placements on Google. Quite simply, Google has reduced the number of first page ad positions from around 11, to roughly 7, creating higher demand and in turn increasing competition across the board. It is likely that costs will go up if you’re looking for a podium finish for your ad placement.

At the end of the day, AdWords is the biggest revenue stream for Google and in 2015 generated an estimated $67.3b for the company. Like any business, they want to see growth and one way to do that is to increase demand for their advertising platform.

Is this really a big deal?

At first glance it could be all doom and gloom, however looking a bit deeper into the impact of this change gives us a clearer picture. In reality roughly 14% of all clicks on Google ads come from the right hand column. Further to this less than half of all searches are made on a desktop. If we use these rough figures then we can say approximately 7% of all Google searches resulting in click throughs on ads will be impacted by this new change. Doesn’t sound too bad now does it?

In reality the big loser in this whole change seems to be the humble organic listing which as a result of the changes will be pushed below the fold (depending on screen size/resolution). Where SEM strategists need to really stay on the ball is how to best create holistic campaigns which don’t feel the impact of this change quite so much.

Here is a breakdown for what it means by platform:

AdWords:

  • There will be three search results at the top of the page for normal searches
  • There will be four results for what Google deems to be ‘highly commercial’ search results
    • Google defines ‘highly commercial’ as queries that show ‘high intent to purchase’
  • There will remain three Ad results at the bottom of the page
  • Cost for the top three ad positions has the potential to rise as demand is increased to be above the fold
  • Quality score is going to become more important than ever if an AdWords campaign is to remain competitive in the long run

 

SEO:

  • Depending on your screen size and resolution, organic results may not show above the fold anymore
  • First page results will remain a priority
  • More importance may be placed on having a ‘top three’ result in your organic listings
  • SEO results may present opportunities for some brands/businesses who can’t justify the increased cost of keeping their top three presence in AdWords

 

Overall SEM strategy:

  • More importance will need to be placed on becoming the brand people think of before they get to Google
    • Remaining top of the mind
    • Brand awareness and recognition will be key to beating the change
  • SEM strategies will need to be more about real-estate on Google than anything else, that means looking at:
    • Google Adwords listings
      • All sitelinks used to take as much space up on the page as possible
    • Organic presence
      • Keeping a focus on top 3 results
      • Ensuring the keyword strategy for SEO focuses on high value/high return keywords
    • Google maps/places listings
      • If applicable to give your website another avenue to be found
    • Google MyBusiness listings
      • Take up precious Google front page real-estate for brand terms

 

Why Google… just, why?

Google has actually been testing this particular set up since 2010, split testing results pages for certain keywords and measuring response rates in various territories. It’s been a long haul for them and I can’t imagine them bringing in such a massive change without it having some positive impacts along the way. In terms of user experience, studies have shown that the majority of day to day users don’t recognise the difference between the top three ad results and the organic results. On top of this these same users tend to actively avoid the ad placements on the right hand side through lack of trust. As a result, we might find that it simply requires advertisers to become a bit more agile with their strategy in order to find the balance that works best for their marketing objectives. As much as this is a big shake up at the moment, it’s not the first time Google has changed the advertising landscape… and in the end, we all survived last time.

Dave Mooney is a Digital Strategist at BCM 

- Paul on February 26

Great post Dave. A very informative piece which informs our future thinking around search.

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