At the end of last week, Google announced that it is to remove ads that appear down the right-hand side of desktop and tablet search results. Instead, there will be a fourth ad shown at the top of the SERP for “highly commercial queries”, and traditionally lower positioned ads will be shown at the bottom of the page. This will reduce the total number of ads shown to seven, compared to ten that currently show. You may have seen some testing around this over the last few years, specifically, the four ads at the top of the page, plus Google have historically shown ads awaiting approval at the bottom of the SERP. Exceptions to the change will be Product Listing Ads (shopping ads), and ads in the Knowledge Panel which include PLAs, hotels price ads, etc.
How will paid search advertisers be impacted?
Greater parity with mobile and desktop search results – positively, ad results will be presented more consistently across mobile and desktop, creating a more seamless user experience.
Better alignment of mobile and desktop/tablet strategies – this may take some time, however there will be greater alignment of CPCs across the devices.
Long tail strategy – for longer tail queries that show only one ad, they have typically been shown at the top of the page as well down the side. These will now be consistently given a more prominent position at the top of the page, which should encourage greater CTRs for long tail keywords.
Increased costs – diminished inventory, reducing from ten ad placements to seven, fundamentally will create a more competitive environment. More significantly though, as only four ads will be prominently placed, there will be much greater competition to get in to the most clicked positions, which will push up CPCs. This is similar to what we are seeing on mobile at the moment, where increases have accelerated quicker than the share of queries seen through mobile.
Decreased share of voice – again, due to diminished inventory, impression share, particularly for lower position terms could start to decrease, with impression share lost to rank likely to grow.
Loss of traffic – as well as losing impression share, if your ads don’t feature in the top three or four ad positions, and are shown at the bottom of the page, CTR will be heavily impacted.
Let’s wait and see…
Quality Score – whilst Quality Score should be adjusted relatively to the position ads are shown in, as CTRs for lower positioned ads will be a lot lower, it will be interesting to see the impact of this.
Viewable impressions – currently a hot topic for display advertisers, reporting on whether an impression is viewed or not could become more relevant for search, as more ads are shown at the bottom of the page. Advertisers could argue that if a user does not scroll to the bottom of the page, the ads are never seen so they shouldn’t be reported as impressions, and also shouldn’t have an impact on Quality Score. It will also be interesting to see what metrics we are given on viewability, particularly around impression share.
What does it mean for organic search?
Although subconsciously searchers may not notice, conceivably, behaviour will be affected to an extent as organic real estate is pushed down the SERPs. There could be a small drop in CTR initially for the top positions for high volume and highly commercial transactional keywords like ‘hotels in London’ or ‘car insurance’ as Google makes the fourth ad more prominent. We are less likely to see immediate change for transactional queries with less volume or for queries of informational descent just yet.
This change will only make the organic space even more precious and the focus for businesses in terms of SEO will increase, with the emphasis on making the very top positions on desktop becoming even more important.
Certainly, from an organic perspective, we will keep a close eye on CTRs as well as industry commentary and continually share any updates in the coming weeks.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the search results and monitoring performance to understand the true impact of these changes.