Google officially finalized their update to their results pages by removing right-side ads in February. The search engine is replacing them with a fourth line of ads on top of results that only appears for highly commercial and specific searches. Google is also now listing two in-line ads at the bottom of the first results page.
You might remember seeing some of the controversial tests of four ads at the top of your search field back in December, but now they are here to stay. Marketers and users will likely see major changes in how they interface with Google’s result pages including advertising costs, UX and efficiency.
Updates to the user experience on Google
A mobile-first web
Many analysts see the SERP changes as part of Google’s continuous effort to further unify the desktop and mobile experience. 2015 was the first year that mobile Google searches surpassed desktop, and Google is catering to the majority of their searchers by designing the overall user experience to align with mobile standards. Smartphones generally lack the screen real estate for side ads, and the desktop redesign reflects the constraints that most users are accustomed to when searching.
Making the browser a better place
It’s becoming increasingly clear: Google favors and rewards the mobile web more than mobile apps, which is why they are researching and developing new web-based services like:
Google has been optimizing the in-Chrome experience, and removing a cluster of ads from the side of the page makes it that much better. The update enhances the user experience by providing a cleaner, less aggressive, more honest search engine environment.
What might Google do with all this white space on the right? There’s now room for additions to the knowledge graph, which has been dedicated to increasing users’ search efficiency since 2012. There’s also more space to include Product Listing Ads (customized, highly specific ecommerce results with images and simple purchase options).
Changes for marketers & advertisers
The implications for marketers might not be as pleasant as they are for end users. With a fourth line of promoted links added to some results pages, and two ads listed at the bottom of the first page, the remaining search result space will become even more precious. Even if the additional in-line ads don’t replace organic listing, they will compete for attention, making SEO an even larger concern for marketers working to organically improve their brands’ visibility.
With every major change, whether in search of web technology, tech journalists and bloggers often clamor to be the first to boldly claim that SEO is finally irrelevant. How often have you read blogs titled “SEO is dead! Long live ____”? The truth is that SEO is very much alive, and always will be as long as search engines exist. Rather than disappearing, the strategies and techniques change along with developments in the search industry and new algorithms from leading search engines.
For businesses who use non-organic, paid strategies and take advantage of PPC on Google, digital marketing efforts are likely to intensify even more drastically. Even with the additional fourth ad listing and the two at the bottom, competition for a top slot will increase and we’ll likely see steeper CPCs for advertisers.
Why is Google changing the desktop layout of results?
The Media Image reports that Google may have been seeing poor returns on right-hand side ads. The clickthrough rate was most likely below Google’s standards, and they predicted that the inflated cost per click revenues from focusing on in-line top and bottoms ads would be a better pay-off.
Google has confirmed that the update to its ad listing is global. It affects all languages that Google supports, and will be finalized Feb. 22, 2016.