In late 2015, Google stirred the SEO and PPC communities with a pilot program: 4 ads at the top of search results. While the buzz was real, the actual impact remained minimal for a while, with only 1% of searches experiencing the top-heavy ad layout. This limited rollout fueled speculation and debate, leaving everyone wondering what the future held for organic search visibility.
Moz reported a significant rise in top-of-search ad density on February 18th, 2016. Initially observed in 18.9% of page-one SERPs, the prevalence of four-ad top blocks skyrocketed to over 36.4% within five days.
This shift coincided with the complete disappearance of right-rail ads for most commercial queries. These displaced ads are now resurfacing as bottom placements, joining the three currently displayed there.
Google confirmed the layout test, stating its intention to refine it for “highly commercial queries” where it can enhance user experience and advertiser performance
How the Adwords Update Looks on SERPs
The SERPs haven’t seen a major shake-up, with the top three ad slots mirroring their previous positions. Admittedly, one new listing snuck in at the fourth position. On the bright side, ditching sidebar ads has trimmed the visual clutter, making the results feel more streamlined.
To gauge Google’s 4-ad block policy, we went beyond typical high-intent searches like “laptops” and “wedding dresses.” We threw in curveballs like “habitat for humanity” and “bible verses,” queries with nary a commercial whisper.
While Google advised 4-ad blocks for intensely commercial searches, we were curious if exceptions lurked. And lo and behold, they did.
The Winners and Losers of the Update
Google’s recent search update, with its prominent 4-top ad display, has naturally raised eyebrows. While some SEOs believe it’s a strategic move to boost ad revenue (which makes up 90% of Google’s pie), Moz’s data paints a different picture.
Interestingly, despite the more visible ad placement, Google Adwords has actually seen a 41.1% dip overall. This suggests a potential shift towards mobile-first indexing, as mobile has never supported the right-hand ad column. The update, spanning all languages, may cause ripples in the search landscape, but we’ll adapt as always. As with any major shakeup, there will be winners and losers on both sides.
What it Means for Paid Listings
Advertisers cheered when Google announced its 4-top ads in December 2015, but the removal of right-rail ads sparked some worries. Previously, search engine results pages (SERPs) displayed 11 ads: 8 along the side and 3 at the top. Now, Google shows just 7 per page: 4 at the top and 3 below the fold.
Despite the ad reduction, Google’s revenue isn’t taking a hit. Right-rail ads historically had dismal click-through rates (below 1%), while the top 3 ads raked in over 4% CTRs. Bumping the fourth ad from the rail to the top spot significantly boosts revenue for that position.
For advertisers, this translates to higher costs. With Google limiting prime real estate above the fold, ad prices are bound to climb.
With limited ad slots available, marketers are likely to prioritize long-tail keywords, aiming to snag higher ad positions in less competitive landscapes. This could benefit those already occupying the top 3 paid slots, those fortunate enough to be bumped to the coveted fourth position, and big players with the budget to outbid the competition.
Small and medium-sized businesses, however, might find themselves relegated to the bottom of the first page by this shift – not necessarily a death sentence, but certainly less visible. This emphasizes the growing importance of securing a coveted knowledge panel slot, as right-rail ads are being usurped by relevant knowledge graph results, aligning with Google’s philosophy of streamlined search results.
Expect cost-per-click (CPCs) to rise as marketers scramble to gain a foothold in the Knowledge Graph and fight for the limited ad space. Product Listing Ads (PLAs) will also play a bigger role in certain searches, making optimization for these crucial for success.
What it Means for Organic Listings
The latest ad format update throws organic search results further into the shade, with the fourth ad pushing them even deeper below the fold. This comes at a time when organic visibility was already scarce for many commercial searches, intensifying the competition in an already saturated SEO landscape.
While some see this as the final nail in SEO’s coffin, others believe it shines a spotlight on its crucial role. With organic real estate shrinking, high-quality SEO becomes the ultimate differentiator, separating those who vanish in the ad avalanche from those who rise above the noise and capture the coveted organic clicks.
Searchers have consistently favored organic listings when seeking product information. While the appearance of 4 ads above the fold might seem daunting, it’s unlikely to significantly affect the top organic positions.
A 2012 study by GroupM UK and Nielsen revealed a strong preference for natural results over paid ones, and despite potential shifts, we believe organic listings will endure as a crucial source for users.
Considering a switch to Bing for budget-friendliness? You might want to hold off. Whispers suggest Bing might be eyeing a similar approach soon, potentially negating any immediate cost advantage.
What it Means for Mobile Search
Mobile-first is the name of the game for Google. In April, their algorithm shifted to favor mobile-friendly websites, sending a clear message about the importance of a positive mobile experience. The recent AdWords update further emphasizes this focus, aiming to streamline the advertising experience across platforms while generating additional revenue.
While mobile search results remain untouched for now, the AdWords shakeup signifies another step towards a standardized ad ecosystem. It’s still early days to determine the full impact on paid and organic listings, but we’ll keep you informed about any changes in CPC, ad CTR, or other relevant updates as they unfold.
Top 5 Google Adwords Tips I wish I knew Yesterday
Google defaults to allowing search and display to be served together. It’s one of the most unethical things Google does – when people build a search ad, it should be search only and vice versa for display.
Lots of confusion and most people new to Ads end up serving trash display impressions with text ads. I see just about every account I take over that was self-managed.
On the above, Google defaults to audience expansion in display/video/etc. campaigns. Not nearly as bad of an issue, but more often than likely you are using large audiences in your ad groups and it’s better to remove audience expansion so you can clearly see which audience is driving results in your reporting.
Then you carve it into its own ad group and turn on expansion. Otherwise it can be difficult to see where that audience is coming from.
More campaigns give more control over budget, performance, targeting, etc. As spend increases, the granularity of your targeting and reporting should as well.
Using the campaign-level settings for control is a tool that many beginners ignore because they feel that multiple campaigns are messy – quite the opposite. Labels, naming structure, grouped budgets, etc. can all make it incredibly simple and effective.
On the above, get really comfortable with match types. Understand campaign structures like Alpha/Beta that will let you fish for search terms with broad match keywords and pull them over to exact and phrase campaigns. You’ll drive more efficient traffic much faster.
Automate any repetitive tasks. A couple of hours of upfront work will save you countless amounts of time. Automated Rules are your friend, scripts are even better.
Frequently asked questions
Q.1 Why did they change the name from AdWords to Google Ads?
If you look at the word ‘Adwords’, you can see it is made of Ad + words. Google has come a long way since it launched the Adword platform, which only offered search ads at first. Now Google Ads has many different networks and channels to choose from. These include display advertising, Youtube ads, Google Maps ads, search partner sites, display partner sites, shopping ads, mobile apps, and new channels like Discovery. So it was long overdue since it started!
Q.2 Does using a keyword in the final URL improve quality score, and if so, do I need manual UTM parameters or will auto-tagging suffice?
No need to manually add UTM parameters to the final URL because Google Ads can track specific information via auto-tagging. If you use a relevant and high-quality keyword final URL that can of course boost the QS. Though, I would suggest manually adding UTM parameters to your final URLs if you have any certain tracking requirements or make use of third-party tracking.
Q.3 How can I improve the ad rank?
Create hyper-relevant ads and landing pages, do as much research as you can about your competitors, ad assets, and bid management. Google keeps minimum thresholds that your ads must meet in order to appear at all, your ad will not show if you don’t fulfill its ad rank threshold criteria even if you have zero competitors for the same Keyword or search query. As the CTR will increase, ad rank will also improve.
Q.4 How do you use a tracking template? Why use it if you can track the page with Google analytics?
If you want to measure any specific metrics, tracking templates can help however, analytics already covers each aspect.
Q.5 How Google determines a CPC for a keyword with absolutely no competition?
Ad rank. It’s very rare though if there’s no competition you should try doing SEO.