Why you shouldn’t panic over Google’s latest SERP layout change


Google’s changes to the search results page layout aren’t reason to panic; they’re just a kick up the backside for digital marketers.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) No comments
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Google’s latest layout change has been the talk of the digital fraternity this week but, amongst all of the panic, concern and even hysteria that has surrounded this change, it’s a development that actually has a great deal of logic behind it – and brings with it some benefits for paid advertisers.

Google confirmed at the weekend that search results pages on desktop will no longer show text ads in the right sidebar. Instead, it will display up to four ads above the organic listings in what Google claims is “highly commercial queries” (estimated to be around 3% of total search queries, although it is unlikely that all commercial SERPs will be affected). Three text ads will also appear at the bottom of the page.

The move brings consistency for both advertisers and users across desktop and mobile. The move does away with some significant differences between the search results page on desktop and mobile, and this helps Google and brands to deliver a consistent user experience across all devices.

The short term impact on paid

paidshort term

There is a clear sense of panic within certain verticals over what this update means for both organic visibility, and particularly paid search performance. Many advertisers will have taken steps to increase bids, just to ensure that they are appearing in, or holding on to, these top positions.

This will inevitably lead to over-inflated CPCs in these key commercial verticals, and whilst there will inevitably be analysis in the coming days and weeks that demonstrate ad costs, it will only be when these changes are established that we will be able to make a more rational and pragmatic assessment on the impact that this change has on the profitability of your AdWords campaigns.

Advertisers should not prematurely ramp up their bid strategy in light of this announcement. Whilst the temptation is obvious, doing so could severely harm the profitability of your campaign.

Don’t jeopardise the success of your mobile campaign


If you feel that the impact has been so significant on your AdWords account that you must respond by increasing your CPC’s then do this sensibly, and monitor change to performance over time.

Remember that these changes are only specific to desktop. If you are driving up your base maximum CPC, this will have an impact on your mobile bid and profitability.

If mobile has been performing well, you need to make the necessary bid modifier changes to off-set the increase in your default maximum bid. Don’t allow a desktop change to reduce the profitability of your campaigns on a channel that is already performing.

There are big benefits to advertisers who follow best practice

best pract

The scrapping of the right hand side ads is actually a big opportunity for advertisers to really deliver greater relevancy in their advertising strategy.

Advertisers that found themselves in the right hand side rail were often frustrated that many of the features that can help to drive click-through-rates, such as sitelink variations, call out extensions and structured snippets, were unavailable to them.

The evidence is clear that the deployment of extensions such as this can easily help to uplift the CTR% of keywords and, with CTR being one of the key components of Google’s Quality Score calculation, this can lead to improvements in Quality Score, which can naturally lower the actual CPC an advertiser pays.

Make your ads as relevant to the user search terms as possible within your ad groups. When the storm dies down and users begin to pull-out of markets, or reduce their bids back down to optimum levels, your ads should be in tip-top shape for improving CTR% and driving down your CPC’s whilst improving conversion volumes.

This update should act as a kick up the backside for advertisers to ensure that all campaigns (where applicable) make the most of the tools at their disposal across all keyword sets. Ultimately, this is about advertisers protecting themselves by following Google best practice.

Reports of SEO’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

seo not dead

The announcement from Google has once again created much discussion about where this leaves SEO and organic search. With another paid search pushing organic below the fold, logic suggests that organic search will struggle to generate the sort of returns that make it a viable marketing activity.

But context is relevant here.

Google has been slowly and gradually eroding the real estate for organic search for the best part of six years, through various initiatives designed to promote Google’s own content and paid ad platforms. Google Compare (prominent in the financial services and travel markets) and Knowledge Graph in particular are perhaps the most prominent examples of Google taking up prime position and serving a user query, without having to refer the user to a commercial website. Throughout those six years, SEO has continued to serve brands as an effective marketing channel.

New Call-to-action

The change will undoubtedly decrease the percentage of users who scroll to the organic listings. By how much is hard to estimate but the impact of this is not going to be too dissimilar (in terms of real estate loss) to SERPs which contain a Google Compare listing (i.e. ‘Car Insurance’).

Users who prefer organic results and are looking specifically for organic results (especially researching terms), as well as those who are aware enough to distinguish between the two, will continue to naturally scroll past the extra ad listing, so organic is still going to remain a huge part of the overall opportunity, even if lower than the existing amount.

But amongst all of this, there is also an unknown quantity. The removal of the right hand side panel will create a much cleaner and less cluttered search results page, and it is not yet known how users are going to react to this. The removal of the right hand side rail will, it seems safe to suggest, focus the attention of the user on the main search results on the left hand side. If this cleaner search results page encourages users to focus their attention on a particular part of the page, and encourages them to scroll more than they did so previously, then this has potential benefits for organic click-through-rates.

It is unlikely that such a prominent area or on-page real estate will remain clean permanently, but the results of this change are likely to influence exactly what Google does with the right hand rail in the future.

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