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.