Google recently changed its PPC ads layout (again), this time removing the pay-per-click ads that previously populated the upper right corner of the search engine results page (SERP).
Will this change affect your customers’ ability to find you?
How do paid search results display now, and how might this affect your organic searches and SEO and PPC ad campaigns?
Google’s Ever-Changing SERP Layout
If we can be sure of anything in the SEO world, it’s change.
Google is infamous for making frequent changes to its platforms, algorithms and ranking criteria. Almost without exception, these changes are shrouded in secrecy and intrigue. Bloggers and SEO wonks spend weeks speculating what an impending change might mean, then months analyzing the outcomes on the back side.
Since Google launched the AdWords program more than 16 years ago, PPC ads were displayed on the upper right portion of the SERP page (an area of the SERP commonly known as the right rail). Now, however, those right rail ads are gone.
The recent PPC changes, according to Google, were supposed to affect only a small number of highly commercial queries (these changes were originally tested by Google for use with mortgage-specific searches). However, when the change was officially rolled out earlier this year, it applied to all Google searches.
The belief in the industry is that Google made this change so that desktop interfaces would appear more streamlined, similar to how they appear in mobile interfaces.
How PPC Ads Now Show on the SERP
Prior to this update, searchers could see up to 11 PPC ad results on the first search engine results page. Typically, three PPC ads would appear above the organic search results, the fourth through seventh ads would appear in the right rail and the eighth through eleventh results would appear below the organic results.
Now you’ll see either two or three (sometimes four) PPC ads above the organic results, none in the right rail, and three below the organic results.
So, where did the other PPC ads go?
As with most things related to Google’s algorithms, it depends. In most cases, the PPC ads bumped from the first page of search engine results have been moved to the second page of search results.
Whether a user sees three or four results above the organic results depends on whether the user enters what Google considers a highly commercial search term. If the term is determined to be highly commercial, four PPC ads are likely to appear above the organic search results.
What Are Highly Commercial Searches and How Do They Affect You?
Google classifies certain search terms as “highly commercial.” In other words, Google believes that users entering these terms have a high level of intention to purchase.
In this case, four PPC ads will appear at the top of the SERP, rather than three.
Although Google’s specific definition of highly commercial searches isn’t clearly defined, some industries are more likely to get this designation than others. Travel-related searches usually fall into this category (“rental car Miami” for example). Moving, mortgage, real estate and insurance companies are also commonly included in this category.
Whether your business model falls into this category — in Google’s eyes, anyway — depends largely on the competition for keywords and phrases in your industry and (if applicable) local area.
How Does This Change Affect Your SEO?
Now that we have had a little time to analyze the impact of this change, we are happy to report that SEO and organic search results have not been affected. Organic search click-through rates remain essentially unchanged since before the switch.
What this tells us is that Google’s algorithms for organic search results weren’t changed as a part of this SERP update.
But what if your business uses PPC ad campaigns as a part of your search engine marketing?
How Does This Change Affect Your PPC Ad Campaigns?
We have good news to report on this front as well, some of it very good if you are an AdWords PPC ad user.
At the time of the change, internet marketing experts were fearful that the changes would wreak havoc with PPC ad campaigns as well as organic searches. When everything shook out, however, AdWords rates did not change significantly.
Surprisingly, the removal of the right rail ads doesn’t seem to have made any major impact on AdWords campaign results. Apparently searchers weren’t clicking right rail results all that often anyway (some research shows that fewer than 7% of searchers clicked on right-side PPC ad results).
Those who did click on the side ads are still finding the PPC ads they want anyway, whether they’re at the top of the page, underneath the organic results or on subsequent pages.
And now, the best news for PPC ad users: The new SERP layout may help blur the lines between paid and organic results, leading to potentially more click-throughs from those users who are resistant to paid search results.
Here’s the Bottom Line for You
The big-picture takeaway is that Google’s recent SERP and PPC ad changes probably won’t affect you or your customers in any negative way.
One reason for this relative stability is the popularity of mobile search. Although many users do still conduct Google searches from a desktop interface, many more are engaging the mobile search platform. And as long as your site is optimized and responsive to mobile searches, your results won’t be affected.
For your prospects that are searching on a desktop interface, the data indicate that they will continue to find you, either through organic search results or PPC ad campaigns.
Finally, if you aren’t currently taking advantage of AdWords and PPC ads, this might be the perfect time to try. The new Google SERP update appears to make PPC ads more effective than ever before, without any significant increase in cost.
At Be Locally SEO, we understand how Google’s approach to search engine rankings — both organic and paid — affect your business. Our experienced internet marketing experts can evaluate your business model and recommend those strategies that will be most effective for building your business and increasing your bottom line.
Contact us today to learn more about how the latest Google updates may affect you, your SEO and your AdWords PPC ad campaigns.
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