The verdict is in: Google’s changes to its search engine results pages are getting mixed reviews.
For digital marketers, the surprise refresh of the year came in February, when Google released perhaps the most significant update to its search engine results pages (SERPs) in the last five years.
The changes have been a boon to some advertisers and the bane of others.
The update, which arrived unannounced six months ago, has had a tremendous impact on both search engine optimization (SEO) results and search engine marketing (SEM) accounts that advertise with AdWords. The update removed the text ads from the right sidebar of the SERPs for desktop and laptop devices. Now, the ads are only shown inline with the organic listings on each page—both above and below them.
The number of text ads above and below organic results is not fixed. Search pages display a maximum of four ads above the organic listings and a maximum of three below them. This is a departure from the previous display, which held a maximum of three top spots.
More recently, the format of the ads themselves has also changed, allowing for the use of site-link extensions, call-out extensions, and increased character counts for both the headlines and descriptions of ads. This isn’t just for the top spots, either. All ads can employ these features.
The layout changes have received a positive reception from shopping advertisers, those in the top spot, and those who like to see simpler, more relevant advertising in their SERPs (users).
While the net effect for Google advertisers is positive in terms of visibility, the drawbacks are substantial. For digital marketers, it’s a mixed bag; on one hand, we can provide better paid results for our shopping advertisers, but there is no way to get around the reduced effectiveness of organic listings. Advertisers historically comfortable with costs associated with the text ads appearing in the right sidebar are now forced to bid higher in an effort to fight for the more limited real-estate. This means brands now have to sink more money into both paid search campaigns and SEO campaigns to achieve the same or slightly better results.
The impact of the expanded text ads remains to be seen, and it likely will have a mixed result for marketers. While we can bet the extensions and added characters will make advertising on Google much more attractive, it will likely have an even more deleterious effect on organic results as the top slots continue to push organic slots down.
Google is planning many more changes to come, including the use of local search ads in Google Maps and Google.com, responsive ads for different device types, device-specific ad bids, and more. Undoubtedly, these changes will mean great things for advertisers, but it remains to be seen what the impacts will be for organic results. Despite the uncertainty, however, the fact that Google is working hard to make SERPs more useful for both advertisers and users is encouraging and should be commended.