In a big move at the end of February, Google redesigned its search engine results page, removing the paid results on the right hand side. The move reduced the total number of ads on the page, and added a new fourth ad at the top of the page. This has aligned the desktop user experience to that on mobile and caused major search advertisers to rethink their approach.
It is the most visible change Google has made to its results page in a long time. One major insurance client told us that it will change their ‘whole strategy’, while others clamored for ‘before and after’ data as to how their competitors were reacting and which strategy is proving most successful. Fewer ads ultimately means more competition and higher prices. Consequently, key to brands looking to cope with life after right side ads is understanding the whole market landscape and how competitors are reacting.
The new layout on the desktop search engine results page brings with it some potentially huge changes. The new fourth top ad essentially takes the spot of what was previously the top organic listing, and for many consumers, organic results may be below the fold entirely. All top ads can now have a full range of extensions as well, from ratings and reviews through to spacing options to make them more appealing to consumers.
Organic listings have been pushed further down the page, increasing the potential for strong, impactful ads. However, competition has been increased, with the number of overall ads on the page reduced. Advertisers who were traditionally appearing on those lower right-side spots may now find themselves falling off the visible results altogether, or pushed to the rarely-clicked bottom set of ads.
On the one hand, with fewer ads to compete with and more dominance of the page, brands advertising with Google are likely to see a greater share of impressions than previously. However, the cost of advertising with Google will inevitably rise as competition increases for the best positions.
We’ve already started to see CPCs (cost per click) rise as competition has intensified. For brands looking to save money, this presents an opportunity to establish themselves on alternative search terms. There may be terms that a brand could significantly capitalise on, that they are completely unaware of. Companies looking to take advantage of the new environment must start by evaluating their search landscape, the brand terms that work for them and any new ones that can be leveraged.
It has been proven that click through rates on search terms significantly rises the more organic they appear. Consequently, by removing the right sided ads I’d expect to see click through rates on PPC search terms rise significantly in the coming months as the line between organic and paid for continues to blur. In fact, some of the biggest winners so far have been those ads in the second and especially the third position, which have been appearing more frequently, gaining more impressions, and taking more clicks.
With greater competition for the top four positions getting ad copy right is going to be more critical to success and have an amplifying effect. In addition, the impact of brand infringement could be greater given the importance of being in the top four positions. For example, are your CPCs rising due to Google’s changes, competitor actions, infringements or your own ad copy (and click through rate) performance? This is a question to answer with data before major investment decisions are made.
We’re already starting to see a number of opportunities for large brands to consolidate their dominant positions while smaller advertisers are forced down the page: conversely, challenger brands who can react quickly are in a strong position to take advantage of the new landscape and use it to their benefit. The key to mastering the change will be utilising data, analysing trends and acting on insights into your market.
With such a significant change to Google’s results page, now more than ever, brands need visibility into their whole competitive landscape.
Ultimately Google’s changes are designed to improve user experience and grow revenues, so they should be viewed positively, and an opportunity rather than a hindrance. As brands grapple for position in the new environment, the winners will be the ones that understand the changes the fastest. This knowledge will go on to shape brand learning models as they develop and evolve and, critically, improve organisation’s return on investment in search marketing.