Google's recent updates go beyond Hummingbird. It's refreshed mobile interface gives paid ads more exposure.

The SEO world was abuzz last week with news that Google had quietly introduced its new Hummingbird algorithm, which ranks online content based on its ability to answer complex questions. (Check out this Brafton article for more detailed coverage of the announcement.) However, the news about Hummingbird shouldn’t overshadow other changes announced at the search engine’s 15th birthday celebration. A new mobile interface that optimizes user experience on smartphones and tablets is being rolled out on a wide scale, and it appears to prioritize paid ads over organic content.

A smartphone search for road bikes in the new “Unified Design” interface yields three results above the fold – two paid ads and one organic result. That means consumers seeking fast answers will need to scroll through multiple screens to find natural results for their queries.

Google's new mobile interface displays organic content below paid ads.

It seems that with this update, marketers hoping to keep their branded content at the top of mobile SERPs will need to dominate for targeted search terms or invest in sponsored ad space. Of course, Google won’t let companies buy their way to the top of small screens. Only domains with excellent Quality Scores are given priority real estate in any SERP, desktop or tablet.

It’s also worth noting that the ads were displayed with an orange label – perhaps in an effort to comply with the FTC’s demands that all sponsored content be clearly marked. This could help organic brands win mobile clicks even if they’re below the fold as studies have shown consumers are more likely to click organic results than ads.

Even if paid content is receiving more face time in mobile search results, marketers must continue to do what they’ve always done – optimize their content for users. If a brand is consistently creating excellent resources that give searches the answers they want, their content will get the attention it deserves.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.