Now What the Fu*k are Google up to??!!

Have you heard the news??!! Having messed up your mobile search rankings with their Mobilgeddon algorithm change last April Google are at it again! They now plan to BAN YOUR ADVERTS from their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)!!

Well not quite!

On Friday 19th February Google confirmed that over the next weeks and months desktop SERPs will no longer show text ads in the right sidebar. Instead, up to four text ads will display above the organic listings, and three text ads will show at the bottom of the page.

This revelation has caused more than a ripple of panic – nay hysteria – amongst some search marketing advertisers and Google have had to do a bit of firefighting. They are at pains to point out that so far there have been changes to less than 3% of search results nationwide i.e. only an incredibly small amount of results. They also stress that the full extent of the changes will not be completely rolled out for several months.

However the chart below (source Merkle RKG) shows that these changes are already beginning to impact dramatically since Wednesday 17th February.

Search Marketing results for text ads

So what is changing?

  1. No text ads will be placed on the right sidebar of desktop SERPs. However, product listing ad blocks and knowledge panels (sometimes with ads, as tests continue in these spaces) will still show in the right sidebar on relevant queries.
  2. Google will place up to four text ads – instead of three as at present – in the mainline area above the organic listings for more “highly commercial queries” ie queries in which Google perceives a serious intent to purchase.
  3. Three text ads will show at the bottom of the SERPs.
  4. The total number of text ads that can appear on a SERP will therefore shrink from as many as 11 as at present to a maximum of seven.

Our examples below show a generic search for New York at the top and a search for New York hotels at the bottom. The SERP on the left has no adverts at the top but it does have a knowledge panel on the right sidebar. However, the search for hotels is regarded as a “highly commercial quer” and has four text ads at the top – but nothing on the right sidebar.

Search Marketing - NY Fig 1

Search Marketing - NY Fig 2

Why the changes?

Google has been testing different formats for several years now and first experimented with four ads above the organic results in 2010, on mortgage queries SERPs. In late 2015, many users noticed the four ad format appear on other queries, with no ads appearing in the right sidebar. But at the time Google stressed that this was not permanent and was only running on a small number of queries. However this now seems to have been overturned.

What will be the impact of the changes?

It is still very early days and it therefore remains to be seen what these changes mean for advertisers. Some key questions that are being raised are:

  • Will fewer ads lead to higher CPC (Cost Per Click) prices due to supply and demand?
  • Will advertisers be willing to bid the same for ads on the bottom-of-the-page as they were for the right sidebar?
  • Will greater impression volume for top-of-the-page ads suppress demand for CPCs?

At this stage it’s very much a case of “more questions than answers”!

Conclusion

As we said above, it’s very early days in terms of these changes and we’ll continue to follow the story. Word on the street is that there hasn’t yet been much impact on impression volume or CPC – but watch this space! Whatever the outcome, there will be an emerging need for those advertisers running bid-to-position strategies to make updates.

This in itself may cause auction patterns to fluctuate for a period as advertisers react to one another’s adjustments. There will also be an increasing need to be smarter about the effectiveness of your SEO strategy so that if CPC does increase then your SEO can pick up the slack.

We’ll keep you updated on how these changes evolve!