Very recently, Google announced a major change to their AdWords PPC system: they removed the ads from the right-hand side of the page, while expanding their offerings at the top and bottom of search results.
Now, there are a lot of very good, very complicated reasons for this; Google never does anything that isn’t driven by data. Those ads were clicked much less often than the ads at either end of a search results page, and eye tracking indicates they were largely ignored, barely even noticed.
And since Google’s whole deal is that they want to make sure the right people get the right information – including the right advertising – they want to make sure that the ads they serve up aren’t just relevant, but will actually be used.
The major takeaway is that the number of ad spots per desktop search results page is almost halved – from eleven to seven. That means fewer opportunities for your ads to be served up at all. But it also means that your ads are much more likely to be clicked; ads in the top position get a 14X higher clickthrough rate than ads on the old right-hand side for the same keyword.
That’s because the ads simply look a lot more like native search results; many searchers, when scanning their results, don’t notice the difference. That’s because the paid results don’t stand out particularly well. Since they’re both highly-relevant and difficult to distinguish from ordinary results, top-position ads get very high click rates, and this now applies to all ads, increasing the power of every AdWords spot.
And while ads in beneath the top four for a search spot are going to be hurt by this, those ads simply saw less than half the clicks of their top-position competitors.
This is a huge blow for organic search results for most “highly commercial queries.” On many desktop computers, the organic search results won’t even appear above the fold, which means getting clicks off of organic search is going to be a lot harder under the new regime.
Sadly, this is part of a much larger ongoing trend; Google obviously prioritizes PPC advertising over pure organic search, precisely because it’s by far their primary revenue stream. A consequence of the free internet is that the money has to come from somewhere, so advertisers are always going to be the first customer of big companies like Google.
And according to Moz, highly commercial queries (searches with an obvious intent to purchase) that serve up the new four-ads-at-the-top format account for slightly under 40% of all search results. That’s not a majority, but it’s not a small number – and it certainly affects a very significant portion of the organic results businesses are trying to rank for.
So Now What?
As always, SEO is constantly evolving in the face of the behemoth Google’s ongoing struggle to make sure information is relevant and prioritized. That means adapting our strategies to match the lived reality on the ground; if highly commercial queries aren’t delivering organic traffic, then we need to change how we approach them. If PPC is going to be an even more valuable way forward, then we drive more of our efforts there.
The Hudson Fusion team is keeping track of the data coming out of the new PPC regime, and adapting accordingly. The goal is always to drive lots of highly-qualified traffic to our clients, however Google structures the systems that make that possible.
So we live, we learn, and we keep our ears to the ground.
Because the next change is probably just around the corner.