In late February of this year, Google confirmed that they will no longer be serving PPC ads in the right hand rail of the search results. While this came as a shock to many, it is something Google has been testing since 2010 and just recently decided to roll out permanently. The online giant has a long standing history of discreetly testing out new updates to search engine results, and this one was no different as an anonymous Google employee leaked the permanent change to the media on February 19.
So what exactly does this change mean for paid search advertisers? What shift in results can digital marketers and advertisers expect to see over the next several months as this change in the search engine landscape rolls out? Below are 4 potential shifts to look out for with this recent update in the Google search results.
1) CPCs Might Increase
Over the next several months as more marketers and clients alike begin to notice the change in Google search results, the competition for the top 3-4 PPC search results is going to gain momentum. It is common knowledge in search that users tend to not spend a lot of time scrolling down to look at results below the fold, so marketers are going to be increasing bids to battle it out for the top paid search slots. There are a couple different scenarios to consider here. CPCs have the potential to increase as marketers compete to own those top spots. Alternatively, it is possible that Google may change the minimum Ad Rank requirements so that ads are showing more often and rotate in more evenly. Some of our clients have seen around a 5% increase in CPCs since the new update rolled out over the last couple months. We will be interested to observe how CPC shifts over the next few months after advertisers have had more time to settle in with this particular update.
2) Impression Share Could Be Harder to Maintain and QS May Carry More Weight
As more advertisers notice the change in SERP results, they will begin competing for the top 4 paid search spots which may make it more difficult for advertisers to maintain stronger impression share on their core terms. How will Google determine which ads to rotate in to those top 4 spots? How will that impact impression share? Will it be tougher to maintain strong impression share for your top terms or will Google loosen up the criteria for Ad Rank and rotate competitors in more evenly? One certainty here is that it will be critical to re-evaluate Quality Score on your most important terms to set yourself up for success with all the unknowns of Google’s next steps.
3) More Advertisers Will Likely Be Shifting into PPC
With this new change rolling out, the amount of paid ad space available on the SERP has decreased from up to 11 down to 7. There is, however, one additional spot available at the top of the page for a total of 4 paid search slots, as opposed to 3 in the past. What does this mean for SEO results? They will be pushed further down the page, bringing a higher number of SEO results below fold. Because of this shift in SEO positioning (and drop in traffic) more advertisers will likely be looking into setting up their own paid search campaigns to compete for the top page spots. This may end up adding another layer of competition to the paid search space, which could also have an impact both on CPC and impression share.
4) ecommerce Advertisers Will Likely Invest More Heavily in PLAs, and non-ecommerce Advertisers Will Be Awaiting Their Solution
While right hand rail paid search ads are disappearing completely, Google has confirmed that this change will not impact the Knowledge Panel or the Product Listing Ads on the side rail of the SERP. The strong positioning of PLA ads is optimal for ecommerce companies and retailers who are likely already heavily investing in PLA advertising. This is great news for ecommerce businesses, but there is no alternative solution for either B2B or B2C companies that do not have specific products for sale on their site.
There is currently a lot of speculation circling around the paid search world about how this major shift in search engine results is going to impact marketers and advertisers. Ultimately, the impact will depend upon how advertisers react to this change in landscape. Will they get more aggressive with bids right away, driving up CPCs? Will they take a step back to revise their keyword set and max out impression share on their most efficient terms? Whichever direction the reaction trends, marketers should take a step back to re-evaluate strategy and results to make sure no major dips in performance have occurred.
Some different types of analysis that may be helpful include segmenting traffic and leads by ‘top of page’ results versus ‘other’ both before and after the update to see if there is cause for worry. Advertisers will also want to look into improving Quality Score since it may end up carrying even more weight. To improve QS, advertisers can try segmenting keywords out into more granular ad groups and looking into ad copy and landing page content that is more relevant to the keywords within those given ad groups. To improve expected CTR, try testing queries on high volume terms to see how competitors are positioning themselves and adjust your copy to be more in line with the competition. Is there room to broaden your customer base? Are there unnecessary qualifiers currently in place within your ad copy? Improving overall QS should help minimize the impact of potential CPC increases, and hopefully lead to better overall positioning with negligible impact on CPCs.