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What the AdWords just happened to Google’s SERP?!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The internet has been a blaze over the past few days with the news that Google have remove
 ads from the right-hand side (RHS) of their search results.

While AdWords veterans are understandably concerned, we’ve always optimised our clients’ paid accounts around their broader marketing objectives, rather than blindly aiming for position one. While this approach won’t change, the results of some campaigns will change dramatically as position five is no longer visible at the top of the page but hidden beneath the organic listings.

With such a fundamental change in the search engine results pages (SERPS) we thought it was worth breaking this down and adding our own opinions on the news – especially as this change has been rolled out globally with immediate effect.

The Facts (as they currently stand…)

The SERPs are always changing, but over the past few months we have started to see different results page (as below).

As you can see, more purchase-led searches tend to contain Shopping Ads with more generic searches featuring paid ads all the way down the RHS.

old google serp layout

Old SERP layout for shopping terms

old google serp layout 2

Old SERP layout – general searches

With this new rollout from Google, however, Shopping Ads remain in the RHS but otherwise it’s now blank, except when the knowledge graph info is displayed.

new google serp layout

Shopping terms – new SERP layout

new google serp layout 2

New SERP layout for general searches

What does this mean for Paid Search?

While Google’s main motivation is probably increased revenue, this doesn’t necessarily mean their intentions are evil. Paid search has come a long way in recent years.

For example, rising costs-per-clicks (CPCs) have forced brands to focus on the relevancy of the ad, meaning the user is more likely to find what they are looking for by clicking on a paid ad. As a result, there are fewer irrelevant and misleading ads.

In recent years, however, increased competition has led to a rise in CPCs as more advertisers compete for the top spots rather than sitting happy in positions four through nine.

Now the pressure to be in the top three might be even higher as the not all queries have 4 ad slots at the top (78% according to Larry Kim on Search Engine Watch), which will further increase the pressure on being in the top three.

Expect the number of results having four ads slots to increase drastically over the next six months though.

Looking at the click placements for some of our larger accounts over the past six months shows that currently “other” click placements (i.e. not at the top of the page) can account for around 20% to 30% of impressions but have a fraction of the click-through-rate (CTR) of top of page ads, with conversion rates at around a third of the top of Google positions.

We expect the CTR of these positions to drop further, which can be detrimental to quality scores. Google is trying to combat these issues by showing sitelinks, dynamic structured snippets, location extensions, and call out extensions for RHS ads, which is a marked improvement.


The Quality Score Matrix

Should I be changing my strategy?

In order to feature in these precious top-of-page positions (without tanking your cost per acquisition) it all comes back to an important paid favourite: Quality Score.

Quality Score is something that’s often discussed but thought to be the paid media managers remit rather than an important aspect for the entire marketing team. But a real focus on quality scores can lead to huge improvements in results.

For example, one of our clients recorded an extra 2 million impressions recently in part thanks to a one point improvement in quality score, with the extra impressions leading to more clicks and a huge boost in revenue.

Building landing pages to support your most important terms, refining campaigns as much as possible, working on page engagement to lower bounce rates and increase time on site, working on making ads as engaging and informative as can be to increase CTR – these are (and always will be) the fundamentals of your search marketing. They simply make browsing a better experience.

The key indicator? Quality Score. As such, you should spend time with your digital teams in order to make sure your quality scores are as healthy as can be.

Even if your campaigns are as refined as they can be from a paid media perspective, you may still calculate that bidding for the term you want isn’t profitable due to the CPC involved. If you place all your eggs in one search basket and aim solely for positions one through three, then you’re really at the mercy of CPCs and will need to cross your fingers that your niche is relatively unaffected.

The way to combat this situation and continue to maximise visibility within your desired audience is to diversify your chosen keywords.

You should be making sure your paid media strategy covers remarketing across all channels, is continually testing to find new profitable niches, targets audiences as well as keywords, and uses new targeting options such as GSPs and customer match where possible.

By utilising your budget across multiple channels (such as search, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, programmatic, native, and YouTube) you can find the right blend of channels in order to maximise your return on investment (RoI) and adapt your strategy to capitalise on key trends.

SEO loses out to more paid results

The old lady of organic search isn’t happy, but isn’t dead either, there are still loads of opportunities!

What does this mean for SEO?

Paid and organic search go hand in hand when it comes to digital marketing strategy, leveraging the best aspects of both channels. Therefore, as the RHS change affects paid search it also has a significant impact on organic search. Our Head of SEO Mark Proctor had the following to say on the change:

“While the removal of right hand side ads does not affect SEO in itself, the switch to four paid ads at the tops of the SERPs has a huge impact on organic search, potentially not showing any organic results on smaller screens.

“However, this doesn’t mean SEO is dead or even wounded; it just reinforces the approach we’ve been taking with clients over the past 18 months. Ensuring your SEO and paid strategies are aligned will assist your ad quality score considerably, and could make the difference when it comes to appearing prominently in the newly designed search results layout.

“The first thing you need to do is understand your current keyword positions and create focussed strategy in order to push your rankings as high as possible for key phrases. Page one rankings aren’t good enough anymore, you really need to aim for the very top or, if that’s not possible, concentrate your efforts elsewhere – look at the long-tail, high relevancy searches and ensure you’re visible for those queries.

“When deciding where to concentrate your efforts, it can be useful to have a look at your paid campaigns and pick keywords where either the revenue is high enough to make the time investment worthwhile or where CPCs are so high that it doesn’t make financial sense to bid too aggressively on paid ads targeting them. Organic results will continue to drive strong revenue, it’s just a case of being a bit more tactical.

“As well as being honest in your strategy about which keywords to target, you really need to make sure your site is as technically optimised as possible and you don’t cut any corners.

“Ensuring everything is indexed correctly, domain authority is distributed to the right places, schema data is used as much as possible, you are fully in control of your knowledge graph, and even taking the time to optimise meta descriptions will all pay dividends.

“With keywords selected and site optimised the other key focus is your brand. Basically you need to get users to search for you and not a generic query, as it’s the only way to be confident in capturing that user.

“Make sure you have a consistent campaign message, push it out through outreach and engaging campaigns, and focus on user-generated content to raise yourself above the competition.

“Content and brand are king and in a crowded market it’s not who shouts the loudest that wins, it’s who understands their customers and gives them what they want.”

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