On February 18th, 2016, Google AdWords changes took the digital marketing industry by surprise. The removal of right side ads on desktop results page created panic and much heated debate. While discussions are still going strong on the topic, most agree a month later that Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Armageddon will have to wait. Again.
What the Google AdWords changes mean for advertisers
The major change Google implemented on the search results was removing the ads from the right side, and balancing the deletion by adding a 4th paid position on the top of the page. The intent, in the interest of fairness, is mostly geared towards products and services, and high-commercial value search keywords (as in, competitive markets).
If you search for something generic that doesn’t necessarily involve commerce, the result page is still mostly free of ads.
For example, on the query “cashmere”, one ad comes up (LL Bean… but they probably bid on every type of wool, fabric or garment). The query “origins of cashmere” yields purely organic results.
But the result page on query “cashmere sweater” displays both ads and product listing ads.
What do Google AdWords changes mean for advertisers is still left to guessing, although a month of data (as per WordStream) puts some speculation to rest.
CTRs (Click-thru rates) are up, CPCs (cost per click) are steady, impressions are down.
Companies that bid for brand, niche markets, displays and video-oriented content and mobile advertisers are not affected by this little revolution (mobile results were already on 4 ad slots).
What about those advertisers that got killed, you may wonder? It turns out the right hand side of the search results page was not very profitable. The bottom of the page may still display up to 3 AdWords slots, up for grabs. While the RHS (right hand side) advertisers feel they lose visibility, and companies positioned 5-11 are not happy to move below the fold, the users feel they get more relevant results with fewer commercial distractions.
Consequences of Google AdWords changes to SEO
The first wave of panic upon learning of the change was close to a tsunami in the SEO world.
The first call of action is to gather the troops to work harder on optimization (and maybe find better tools). Since most desktop screens display only above the fold, scrolling is required to find the first organic result.
To top it off, the bottom position moves to the second page (but it’s on top there, so that’s a positive…).
But did Google AdWords changes really make SEO the biggest loser?
“[…] organic has been losing ground to new ad formats and other SERP changes every year”. Here is exactly why SEO professionals recover from the news better than advertisers. So many changes over the years have forced them to adapt and shift their working methods, not their strategies. They have to be more precise, they have to analyze performance with more scrutiny so that keyword and that meta description will bump them back up.
In fact, one may be allowed to think that organic search could benefit from a less cluttered page, where the user can find a more direct access to what they queried for.
The query “origin of cashmere” yields purely organic results
So, as users, if information and knowledge are what we’re looking for, we still get them with minimal distraction. And if we are in the business of selling cashmere sweaters, we should run those reports and make sure our content includes “origins of cashmere” or “cashmere origin” (70 queries per month), or buy the top ad slot for a few cents.
It can be argued that Google AdWords changes were mostly implemented to boost ad revenue and that users, small businesses and SEO professionals were collateral damage. As a company Google needs to make profit. As a search engine, it needs to cater to the user. It’s a fine balance. Ultimately, time will tell what, if anything, is affected by the move. So far, the sense of doom has faded, and business has resumed as usual.