Google is once again shaking up the world of search and moving the proverbial cheese of marketers by making drastic changes to its search engine results pages (SERPs).
On Friday, February 19th, Google confirmed that search results pages on desktop will no longer show text ads in the right sidebar. Instead, as many as four text ads will display above the organic listings, and three text ads will show at the bottom of the page.
Long story short: Ads get more expensive and search marketing gets more difficult.
From the blogosphere:
Google will say it’s continually tweaking pages to give the best user and marketer experience. But the main benefit will probably go to Google. There will be fewer ad slots on desktop pages and bidding will go up. As a result, marketers will have to spend more. This dynamic is just swell for Google, but the fallout is extensive.
“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.”
~ Google spokesperson
Valerie Davis, VP of search media at PM Digital, said Google risks upsetting advertisers with the changes. “If a user is searching on desktop, you want them to have a desktop experience. Google will be messing with something that has worked for a very long time,” she said. “We already have some clients looking for alternatives to Google given the ongoing price increases. This will push advertisers to other channels and vendors, which I believe makes this an unlikely endeavor for Google.”
~ Ad Age
Granted, this will have massive repercussions for search advertisers. Average CPCs will almost certainly inflate to vie for the top positions, as research has repeatedly shown that users overwhelmingly view, and interact with the top of the SERP, and neglect the bottom.
While the confirmation that Google would no longer show text ads in the sidebar on desktop came as a shock to many, it’s been simmering for some time.
Google has been testing variations of this theme for several years now. The first time Google started experimenting with four ads above the organic results was in 2010, on mortgage queries. Late last year, many users began seeing the four ads appear on other queries, with no ads appearing in the sidebar.
The click-through rates (CTRs) for organic listings are decreasing year-over-year. Advertisers are pumping more cash into PPC every single year. PPC is now growing at a much quicker pace than organic.
Four ads above organic listings is going to be extremely detrimental for SEO.
For the majority of terms I searched, organic listings were being pushed down so far that only #1 was visible without scrolling. If a local pack is featured beneath the ads, no organic results are shown at all without scrolling.
Google has its own listings in the majority of searches promoting either its own ‘walled garden’ content or a third-party (the right-hand space will still be utilized for Product Listing Ads (PLAs) as well as Knowledge Graph Boxes). For example, search “car insurance” and Google has its own comparison engine – along with 3 ads (after this change). The above-the-fold landscape is taken up by Google/PPC – so tell me exactly how organic search can benefit long-term? The same applies for generalized queries such as “liability insurance”, where Google now shows an info box – along with 3 ads (4 soon).
The space above the fold is now occupied by paid search, Google, and third parties. Google is steadily choking out organic real estate — which at one time was the great equalizer in the David-vs-Goliath battle of the SERPs — and is being phased out by paid media spend and social spend. This move will further squeeze small business budgets and make search marketing cost prohibitive for the little guys.
I’m not saying that SEO is going anywhere, either in the short-term or long-term. But, no longer can companies solely rely on SEO to drive business and revenue as a sole earner. I see SEO becoming secondary to PPC – where every major business focuses on PPC first and foremost, and SEO as a secondary platform to try and grab more traffic.
~ K3zzeR, /r/BigSEO user