…according to the doomsayers

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oogle AdWords is nothing if not dynamic and last month saw a massive change in the way the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is shown to searchers. Previously, the top three paid-for-ads – usually referred to as positions 1, 2 and 3 enjoyed the top left of the SERP –above everything else. The remaining paid for ads (ad positions 4 thru’ 13) were in a long column down the right hand side of the page – often referred to as the side bar. Immediately below the top three paid-for ads were the organic, or natural listings.

Above The Fold

This is a term used in AdWords advertising which harks back to newspaper days. Above the fold in newspaper terminology refers to the upper half of the broadsheet which is still visible when the paper is folded, as it is on the news stand. This is where the important stories and photographs go. Editors use it to ensure that the items likely to sell copies are given prominence “above the fold”.On the search engine results page in AdWords above the fold refers to those ads which appear on the screen immediately without the searcher having to scroll down. And, just like in newspapers, it’s where you want to be if you want to sell stuff.

This latest change by Google means that the right hand column of paid-for-ads has completely disappeared.

They’ve been there for almost 16 years, since the very beginning of [AdWords] time. In addition, the paid-for ad in position 4, which used to be at the top of the right hand column is now below the paid-for ad in position 3. So the organic ads now sit below four paid-for ads. The crumb of comfort for organic ads is that there will be more of them for searchers not to see (my attempt at cynicism).

When Google announces something as big as this then panic almost certainly ensues. Of course, its no surprise where most of the complaints have come from – those advertisers (and agencies) who wanted to get to the top of the organic listings without paying Google a penny. Ok, they might have had to spend a bit with an agency to get them there. But, hey, organic listings are getting a free ride anyway.

I’ve heard some commentators say that searchers are making increasing use of ad blockers which means that the SERP contains only the organic results. Yeah? In practice, most searchers will now see four paid for ads above the fold.

For highly competitive paid traffic advertisers like me this is a great move.

Its possible that the top four paid-for positions will cost more (higher CPC) but the also-rans down the right hand side, who got the occasional clicks, have gone which means more clicks to be shared amongst us top four. Oh, by the way there will also be two ads at the bottom of the page but not that many people scroll down. Of course the only way to see the organic listings now will be to scroll down. All us paid traffic experts will continue to do everything in our power to create the widest, deepest paid-for ads on the page and if each ad manager does the same then the organic listing will be well below the fold. This also means that those ads, previously in position four at the top of the right sidebar can now show the full range of ad extensions.

Why is this all good news?

Well, studies show that a lot of searchers don’t realise that the ads in the most prominent positions (previously 1, 2 and 3) were paid, sponsored ads. However, most searchers believe that the ads in the right hand column were truly advertising. In fact, 85% of all clicks on ads were taken by the top three paid-for ads under the old arrangement. So the remaining side bar ads only got 15% of all clicks between them. This now means that there are 15% more clicks available for the new top four paid-for ads. According to Wordstream CEO Larry Kim, the new fourth paid-for ad looks more like an organic ad anyway which is also a bonus for paid traffic advertisers and will, hopefully, pick up those searchers who are biased towards natural, organic listings.

Clearly, Google is not going to leave a big blank space down the right side of the SERP. So, another winner in this change are those advertisers with Shopping Campaigns – as the freed up space can be used by Product Listing Ads (PLAs).This also leaves room for what’s known as the Google Knowledge Panel. This is where a local business is featured prominently if it qualifies – the information being gleaned by Google from the business’s Google My Business entry. This shows the business address, some photos, opening times, customer reviews etc.

Clearly, though, whilst organic listings may be the biggest losers in this change, those advertisers paying for clicks will definitely need to up their game. To get into one of these coveted top four positions will require a highly efficient, fine tuned and relevant campaign. But, hey, that shouldn’t be news to most advertisers, we had to do that before anyway to get a good position. But, for some small businesses this may prove, once and for all, that the AdWords search network should not be their preferred PPC tool of choice and for many Facebook may offer a cheaper and more lucrative alternative to mention but one. But remember, the search network isn’t the only AdWords tool. Great success can still be enjoyed by small businesses if they embrace Google’s Display Network with it wide range of targeting tools. I was recently experimenting with You Tube advertising and found it difficult to pay more than 7p per click.

Why has Google made this change?

– to make more money of course! Google makes money from its customers (the advertisers) and we all know the fastest way to the cash is to sell more to your existing clients. Although the reason given by Google is to make the search experience on desktop and tablet match that of mobile (where there are no sidebar ads anyway). A lot of commentators, however, believe that Google’s own testing has shown that this change will improve the performance of those top four ads. I’m happy with that.

Personally, I think the new layout will provide clarity for the searcher and an even better return for the advertiser.

Its early days into this change and people seem naturally resistant to change. Not me, I always embrace change and then spend time working out how I can make a change work for my business. You should do the same. ‘til next time…

David Browne

Author: David Browne

David Browne’s Google AdWords campaigns have been described by the big cheeses at Google HQ as an “art form” – which would make David an artist. David honed his skills at the helm of the very successful Scottish Shutter Company, but having handed over the reins to his daughter and son-in-law he now runs his own digital marketing consultancy and is a co-founder of Barefoot Digital.