What Google’s New Layout Means For Search Marketers


If you’ve noticed things shifting in Google’s SERPs, you’re not seeing things. This week, Google has been increasing the frequency of its paid search listings, showing up to four ads above desktop search results, and simultaneously removing the ads on the right-hand side. Read on to learn what it’s going to mean to your PPC and SEO campaigns.

Google has been testing four ads above the organic results for years, though only for a small subset of searches. Now, a greater number of searches — specifically “highly commercial queries” — are likely to serve four ads.

The impact of seeing four ads above the search results is yet to be seen. As I see it, there are positives and negatives in this move.

Why Is This Good?

According to analysis across all iProspect UK clients, ads in the banner positions receive 14X the click-through rate of the same ad on the same keyword on the right-hand side.

This is partly a selection bias (ads with a better CTR achieve a better Quality Score, meaning they win more auctions, meaning they appear in the banner a higher proportion of the time), but the effect is the same: ads on the right-hand side get clicked at a much lower rate.

Most impressions on the right-hand side have gone to waste (from a performance perspective) as a result of this phenomenon, so moving more ads toward the banner will help many campaigns.

Fewer ad positions also means more accurate average position (Avg. Pos.) reporting. Previously, there were up to 11 ads on the page — so for advertisers with high ad positions, the mean average (Avg. Pos.) would be skewed below the mode average (your most frequent position) by ads appearing farther down the page. This inaccuracy in average position reporting will be reduced by the reduction in available ad positions to seven per page.

For example, in the chart below, the most common position is position 2, but the average position is 3.5. Reduction in total ad spots means your below-the-fold ads are less likely to drag your mean average down, and your average position will better reflect your true positions.


AdWords Average Position

Why Is This Bad?

This change is going to significantly impact the auction dynamics in PPC. Instead of 11 ads on a page, we’ll now see a maximum of seven, and more than half of the results are in the high-value banner positions.

Expect bidding to increase as brands try to maintain impression share and fight for top-of-page positions.

What’s The Long-Term Outlook?

Your balance between PPC and SEO is going to be more important than ever. In the screenshot below, you can see a typical commercial search results page: four ads, eight Shopping results, and one natural search result. That’s only eight percent of the above-the-fold area showing natural search results. This looks like a serious difficulty for SEO traffic.

Google four ads results

On the other hand, the PPC results are getting more expensive. Increasing CPCs will mean that your SEO has to do more work than ever before.

Make sure that your campaigns are balanced and tested, to know how much PPC slack your SEO can pick up.

More PPC ads, as compared to organic results, can mean more traffic on high-ROI terms, so this can really allow businesses access to more and better traffic than ever before. Just be smart about it.

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