If you’ve spent some time browsing Google over the last few weeks, you may have noticed something’s different. The ads that previously appeared on the right side of the page are no longer present. No, this doesn’t mean advertisers are less interested in reaching you. Instead, you’re seeing a pretty big change Google recently made to their paid search product, AdWords. If you’re running a paid search campaign, or thinking about one in the future, it’s important you understand this change and what it could mean for your brand. We’ve put together this guide to help you do just that.
- Removal of all right-hand column ads
Google used to feature ads on top, to the right and below organic search listings. Starting a few weeks ago, those ads on the right-hand side of the page will no longer appear.
- Number of top ads increases from three to four
Previously, three ads sat atop the organic search listing, which meant the page was almost equally populated with paid and organic listings on most devices. Not anymore. Not only is the number of paid listings at the top of the page increasing, but they’re also getting larger.
- All top ads can feature “ad extensions”
Ad extensions are little add-ons that sometimes show up below paid search listings. These could be site links pointing to internal pages within a website or extra little bits of copy. While these can be great for helping an audience find the content they’re most interested in, they also increase the amount of real estate each ad uses on the page. This used to be reserved for the top advertiser, but going forward all four ads can (potentially) feature this content.
What This Could Mean for Your Brand
- Greater competition
Removing all of the advertising from the right-hand section of search results is obviously going to result in fewer overall ads being available for bidding. Even with the addition of a fourth spot above the organic listings, this still represents a big decrease in overall real estate available. Is it reasonable to think companies will simply roll over and decide to no longer participate? No! While it’s true that some advertisers may not be able to compete for a spot in the top 4, most will simply refocus their efforts and get fiercer about securing their placement.
- Greater keyword specificity
It’s important to remember that Google has always been in the business of helping audiences find information. Offering fewer placements forces brands to take a hard look at which are performing best and, thus, resulting in greatest returns. Removing or defunding underperforming search terms should be a part of the regular optimization process anyway, but this change will likely result in a metaphorical sharpening of the AdWords pencil.
- Increased cost
It’s a reasonable situation: Google reduces the number of placements available, and brands dig their heels in and bid more competitively for what’s still there. Thus, everyone’s costs increase. This is a winning situation for Google. They simplify search results and make ads more relevant while simultaneously offsetting the reduction in media costs seen by removing nearly half of the available placements. To quote one of my favorite Guinness ads, this approach is “Brilliant!” However, it only works if most brands really do dig in. The reality is that many may not have the experience or budget necessary to adapt. Those inexperienced in optimizing a search campaign end up opting out if their ads can never ascend beyond the bottom of the page.
- Less focus on search engine optimization (SEO)
We’re not suggesting SEO is dead. However, the increased number and size of paid search ads may cause organic listings to get an undesired bump to a position below the fold. This is obviously only relevant for search terms that would attract three or four paid advertisers. This would also come into play if each of those advertisers took advantage of ad extensions, which will probably not happen immediately. Brands that gain significant traffic from organic sources may see a decrease in volume if their competition begins sapping a higher percentage of clicks through paid efforts.
So what do you do about all of this? Here’s what we recommend:
- Talk with your agency or paid search partner about these changes.
- Closely monitor costs and performance to determine if these changes are affecting your brand’s efforts (organic or paid).
- Always understand which keywords are driving the greatest successes on your website. Remember it’s critical to get beyond basic impression and click metrics to understand on-page behavior (time on site, pages viewed per session, user flows, conversion rates, etc.).
- Have a plan in place. Be armed with the performance information above and be ready for increased costs or low page placement.
At the end of the day, knowledge is your best ally. A clear understanding of your brand’s search efforts will empower you to make smart decisions and, thus, the strongest possible connections with prospects. If you’re interested in learning more about paid search or how Blue Flame Thinking can help you make these connections, please contact our media strategist, Tyler Nall, at email@example.com or 312.382.9000.