What does the Google ad placement reshuffle mean for SEO?
So a couple of weeks ago, Google announced that they were updating the overall UI, design and layout of their SERPs on the AdWords blog . Their stated aims are to improve the user experience by making the page “flow” better, allowing them to scan the page from top to bottom more easily. They also said that it would improve ad performance as, according to their tests, CTR is improved by having ads appear at the bottom rather than the side of the SERPs. So far, so what? At least that was my thoughts initially, and I filed it in the mental drawer labeled “interesting, but not especially important”, since it really only relates to people doing PPC, and I…well, don’t.
Then a couple of days ago, eConsultancy published a blog post on the subject, and some of the points raised by their experts got me thinking about how these changes fit within Google’s overall, ever-changing strategy and philosophy regarding search. One particular quote by Matt Whelan jumped out at me:
“Google has recently been placing other content in the side bar, maps for local results are the example most people will have seen. As they increasingly verticalise and personalise the search results page, Google will be looking to place additional content in the side, which covers their traditional ad placements. One recent example is the “sources” module. So Google needed to move the ads in order to showcase new content like this.”
And that was my “lightbulb moment”, when I realised that this quite minor change was actually kind of a big deal if you think about the bigger picture. Essentially, it boils down to this:
- Google wants to improve the usability and variety of content it offers to searchers in its SERPs.
- To do this, they’ve started introducing the sidebar as a place to add content, such as maps, amongst other things.
- They need to move the ads out of the right sidebar to make room for this “better” content, so they placed it at the bottom.
- Moving the ads to the bottom may increase CTR, but will undoubtedly increase average CPCs, as advertisers compete more fiercely for the above-fold ad spots.
- By moving the ads to the bottom of the page, the number of ad slots overall is also reduced, as it appears there will only be a total of 6 slots available (3 above, 3 below the fold).
- And that means that there will be a lot of advertisers appearing in slots 7 onwards that will find they either must massively increase their budgets/bids, or disappear altogether.
Now all that has a couple of fairly obvious affects.
I agree with Shaad Hamid’s comment on the eCosultancy blog post when he said:
“I think the emphasis should always be on relevance over price. I think this would drive online marketers to improve their overall campaign quality”
By making the competition more fierce, many advertisers are going to be forced to reconsider their ad campaigns in terms of the relevancy of their ads to the consumers (ie, keywords/searches) they are targeting. They will have to ensure that they structure their campaigns based on relevance and not just cost. And that is definitely A Very Good Thing.
It’s also going to mean that a lot of companies will struggle to drive the necessary traffic, conversions and sales that they used to through paid search if their ads are disappearing from various keywords around which they may have built their strategy. And that will mean they have to divert more of their budget to ranking and delivering traffic through organic search. And that’s going to be great news for any SEO agency/professional.
Lastly though, its clear that Google is placing a heavy emphasis on their new sidebar content in the SERPs. It remains to be seen exactly what will go into the sidebar, other than the maps that most people have already seen on searches with local intent, like “pizza” (side note: curious how “pizza”, but not “pizza delivery” has the ads moved to the bottom), but whatever content appears there is going to become massively important.
Blended search has already made Local Search a hugely influential and important aspect of any search strategy, but the massive prominence of sidebar maps now that they replace ads only makes it more critical for any business with physical locations. Being aware of the keywords that do and do not display their secondary ad group at the bottom of the page is going to be an important factor to take note of, as it will impact dramatically on the prominence of local results.