As we all know, the first 24 hours are the most critical in a missing advertising investigation and so it is with the Google Side Ads case. One day they were there, hanging out doing their thing and then bang they were gone. On Monday February 22nd, 2016 SEO and PPC experts alike were quickly on the web looking for the suspects in this case and.all fingers pointed to Google. There was no leap to judgement here as Google was the only possible suspect.
Over two weeks have passed and our culprit, Google, has yet to post an article on the Inside AdWords blog explaining this critical change and their erratic behavior. Not to worry, we are sure that the explanation is coming. More importantly we must ask ourselves, with this drastic change in place what is a modest position advertiser to do?
First let’s explore the issue at hand and why Google would do what they did. The issue is that Google robbed us of our side ad space and replaced these side positions with one more top position and three bottom positions. In other words, they got rid of seven ad positions and added a maximum of four (one on the top and three on the bottom of the search results page) leading to a reduction in total ad copy, right? True but I suspect that Google has accountants who are really good at math, so why would they want a reduction in ads? The answer is that a reduction in ads is not a reduction in revenue. When an ad went from the top to the side the CTR commonly drops by a factor of 10x. A top position that gets a 5% click will only get 0.5% on the side. That being said it is likely that replacing seven side ads with one top ad (assuming this new top ad will perform as well as the existing top three positions) will actually increase Google revenue. See, I told you they had accountants at Google and they are really good at math.
Now let’s explore who really got hurt here? While the data is still building it would appear that advertisers with a modest budget and position strategy and those who depend on organic traffic are the most affected. The modest position advertisers now must decide if they want to compete for the fourth position to appear on the top of the search results page or if they want to compete for positions 5-7 to appear in the uncharted bottom ad space. We are unsure how these bottom ads will perform, only time and data will tell. Until enough information exists, the bottom ad space is certainly a gamble.
In addition, the organic strategist got slapped because the first organic result now appears deeper in the search results page than ever before. For clients with a top of page strategy this change has very little impact other than the fact that all the side position advertisers are now reviewing their bidding strategies to see if they want to make a run at the top of the page.
Here are a few samples of how the SERP changed:
Shopping ads in-line, followed by 2 top positions, and then organic. This was a rare format that only came up on this search for a book title.
This is a non-localized result with 4 top positions and no side and this was a common result on searches that are not local. First organic is still on the 1st page but down a few lines from where it was.
This is a localized search with shopping ads on the side. This was a common format and the organic is no longer on the first page.
This was a common result for a localized search. Top 4 positions, the map, followed by the 3 pack and the organic is well off the first page results.
So what is an advertiser to do? First and foremost take a deep breath and see what your data says. If you had a side position strategy tune your bids to position 4 based on impression levels to see if the bottom-of-the-top or the top-of-the-bottom of the page is a better fit for your business. If you are a local business, then pay close attention to your map listing. Maps are organic results that are driven largely, but not exclusively, by reviews. The eligibility is set by finding address verification listings but after it is eligible then rank becomes the issue. Rank is driven by reviews and all the other organic signals. The key here is to get as many real customer reviews as possible.
If you are a local provider with an SEO only strategy you need to hold your breath and watch your traffic levels very carefully. It is likely you have been sent further down the search results page or even, dare I say it, to the second page.