Google Desktop SERP Change

What is the latest Google desktop SERP change?

Google has just rolled out a new layout for their desktop search engine results page (SERP), removing all right-hand side ads and reducing the number of total ad placements available on the page.

Previously, search text ads could appear anywhere from position 1-3 (at the top of the page) and from 4-10 (the right-hand side of the page). As a result, right-hand positions 4-10 have now been removed, and up to 3 new ad placements have been added to the bottom of the SERP.

A fourth placement will now also appear at the top of the page for highly competitive and commercial queries (e.g. ‘fridges’ and ‘car insurance’). Google Shopping (or Product Listing Ads) are unaffected by this change and join SEO knowledge graph results as the only content to appear on the right-hand side.

This means that the maximum number of text ad placements available for any particular search query has dropped from 10 to 7, with just 6 on most queries.


Why has Google made this change?

Google has been testing this layout in one form or another for some time now. Some reports have even suggested this testing may have been taking place as far back as 2010. The logical explanation for the change is to bring all search engine results in line with mobile, as it gradually overtakes all other devices from a search query perspective. In actual fact, right-hand side ads were retired on tablet devices back in 2014 and desktop was the last vestige of one of the original ad text formats. This update provides Google with a much sleeker, cleaner looking SERP.

How does this affect your search strategy?


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Available Impressions

From preliminary national data Columbus is seeing a 7.5% increase in available ‘top’ position search impressions, and a 9% decrease in available ‘other’ position search impressions. Columbus believes that the reduction in available ad placements will be somewhat negated by the ever increasing search query volumes across all devices.

Click-Through-Rate (CTR)

As a result of the fluctuations in impression volumes, Columbus has also seen CTR affected.  ‘Top’ position CTR decreased by 1.75% and ‘Other’ position CTR increased by 9.9%. We would expect that over time these click-through-rate changes will flatten out as advertisers develop flighting strategies to cope with the more densely focused competition.

Cost-Per-Clicks (CPC)

In a similar manner to click-through-rates, the average CPC’s have also been affected. ‘Top’ position CPC’s have increased by 3.6% and ‘Other’ position CPC’s have decreased by 21%.

How is Columbus adapting to these changes?

We are monitoring these metrics very closely and if any major impact is discovered we will continue to refine our best practice methodology to drive the best results for our clients.

Paid Search

Columbus’ paid search focus remains unchanged by this update. Ensuring that you have the highest quality score possible is still key to achieving the most cost-efficient traffic and conversions. This update places even more emphasis on quality score, and we would encourage you to ensure that all on-site aspects are as relevant and SEM-friendly as possible.

Organic Search

With the increase in paid search ‘Top’ positions, it’s inevitable that organic search results will be pushed down the page for the ‘highly commercial’ queries mentioned by Google in their release. This is obviously of concern to Columbus and something we will be paying very close attention to in the near future.

In addition, it’s advisable to closely align your paid search strategy with your SEO strategy, ensuring a blended search approach. Having content-rich meta descriptions and on-page copy aligned to your organic target keywords will lead to improved SEO rankings and a better paid search quality score. In addition, a consistent and logical website structure with SEO friendly URL’s will contribute to a stronger paid search account structure.



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