The Change

Google has rolled out a new search results page over the weekend, putting in place a change that may have signif­i­cant impact on paid & and organic search, and maybe even web site traffic in general.

The new search results page does away with the famil­iar right rail ads that accom­pany most searches. Up to 4 ads now appear at the top of the results page. Nothing appears on the right side, except Shop­ping Ads (PLAs) and Google’s “Knowl­edge Panel”. If those aren’t rele­vant to a search, the right rail is just…empty.

Before the change, the search results page might look like this:

Today, it looks like this:

This change isn’t a total surprise, given the fact that Google’s been testing a search results page with 4 top text ads (http://searchengineland.com/google-continuing-to-test-4-text-ads-in-search-results-237905) , and has also seemed to be giving more weight to Shop­ping Ads (https://www.internetretailer.com/2016/01/19/google-doubling-down-product-listing-ads) . But we did not expect this type of dramatic change to happen so quickly.

The Impact

Since this change happened so recently, we’re not sure yet about the impli­ca­tions. Of course, the indus­try is already abuzz with the impact of the change so far. But any change we’ve seen so far only takes into account the actual change itself. The real changes will come as adver­tis­ers begin respond­ing to the change with changes in their own campaigns – and the effects of that won’t be known for at least the next few weeks.

But we can already see some trends and make some predic­tions. First, there are less ads view­able above the fold. That means less supply avail­able to adver­tis­ers who want that more premium spot. Less supply with the same demand equals higher prices. Most likely, CPCs are going to rise glob­ally. It will take careful under­stand­ing of how to get the most out of your CPCs, whether you do it manu­ally (http://www.searchdiscovery.com/blog/manually-optimizing-bidding-in-paid-search-estimating-a-new-cpc/) or auto­mat­i­cally, to retain effi­ciency on this new search page. And four ads on the top of the page may also impact click-through rate, as there are more ads for a user to choose from.

Another ques­tion is how this will impact sitelinks, those “extras” that allow your ad to take up more of the search page land­scape. With four ads on top of the page, ads already command a signif­i­cant amount of the avail­able real estate. If they can expand signif­i­cantly with sitelinks, there’s almost no room left for organic searches. Will Google allow that? That answer will impact how much you can rely on sitelinks to help your ad command atten­tion.

That raises the ques­tion of organic results in general. With four ads, the first organic results are fairly low on the results page – if they even show up above the fold at all. And if you add in other results that may appear on the page, such as local results, then organic results get pushed further and further down the page.

This could poten­tially split the SERP between the paid section – i.e. the whole top half of the page, includ­ing Search ads and PLAs – and the organic section on the bottom of the page. This will most likely impact both paid ads and SEO, as adver­tis­ers and organic results now need to fight for fewer avail­able slots.

The new Search Page may impact how much paid & organic traffic your site receives. A clear under­stand­ing of best prac­tices across the board and the ability to stay abreast and adapt to changes as they happen are the key factors that will deter­mine your success in this new land­scape.