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Google SERP layout change – what does it mean for advertisers?

Written by Louise | 22-Feb-2016 09:17:00

Google are constantly testing alternative search results page (SERP) layouts but late Friday (19
th Feb 2016) they rolled out a new desktop layout which is similar to the layout seen on tablets and mobiles. The new format has no ads appearing on the right hand side of the page, with two exceptions.

New layout:

Product Listing Ads & Knowledge Graph - business as usual

Product Listing Ads (PLA’s) will continue to appear either above or to the right of top natural search results, and knowledge panels will continue to appear top right of the page.

Product Listing Ads will still feature in the right-hand side


Nothing changes for the Knowledge Graph either

Google said:

“We've been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. We'll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.”

So what will this mean for advertisers?

The quick answer is it will mean huge upheaval and lots of analysis work for PPC teams to establish what the new “normal” looks like! The full impact may not reveal itself for some time as advertisers adapt to the impact of the new layout and everyone tries new bidding strategies, but we think there will be (at least) seven immediate implications.

  1. It’s likely to lead to increased competition for the top 3, or 4 ad positions so an immediate effect will probably be cost per click (CPC) inflation which in turn will decrease an advertiser’s ability to buy impression share if budgets are not increased. For industries where searches are dominated by a small number of core generic terms such as insurance, the inflation could be significant as a an already-competitive market gets fiercer as advertisers compete for fewer ‘above the fold’ ad positions.
  2. Clients for whom careful bidding strategies deliver efficiency through generic ads appearing in positions 5 - 10 will have to completely re-evaluate their bidding strategies as the effect of ads appearing right at the bottom of page 1 is assessed and fewer paid-for ads appear on page 1.
  3. Brand term search activity could be even more important as generic term costs increase and potentially become less efficient.
  4. A more aggressive auction will demand an effective strategy for the use of RLSA (Re-Marketing Lists for Search Ads) so that bids for ‘cold’ or ‘warm’ audiences of different types can be differentiated and carefully balanced to deliver an efficient paid search campaign overall. Making sure ads appear in top 3 positions for customers identified as most likely to buy will be crucial to delivering good Return on Investment (ROI) overall.
  5. Ad extensions are likely to become more important as they contribute to ad rank and Quality Score (QS). The more extensions that are set up the greater the opportunity to increase QS which will help keep CPC’s under control and improve click through in expensive top positions. Ads appearing at the bottom of the page will also have ad extensions appearing, which is a new development and is one positive opportunity.
  6. The impact on Not-for-Profit organisations with a Google Grant could be significant as the $2 CPC bid restriction could make qualifying for the larger GrantsPro of $40,000 a month extremely difficult. Spending the standard Grant in full in order to qualify for the larger grant has just got a whole lot harder to achieve.
  7. A well optimised site will now be more important than ever and a holistic Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategy that consistently delivers page 1 natural search listings for key generic terms will be crucial if advertisers are not to lose their share of impressions and clicks.

So as the new world of search dawns PPC and SEO teams everywhere will be crunching the numbers and burning the midnight oil to work out how their strategies need to change to make sure they don’t lose out in the new landscape, but one thing is for certain; Google will not be the poorer for the change!