Google Changes Ad Placement on SERP’s. Good, or Bad?

Google Changes Ad Placement: Our Thoughts

Google Changes Ad Placement on SERP’s. Good, or Bad?

Learn why the removal of right side ads isn’t nearly as big a deal as the addition of a 4th ad above the map results on desktop (scroll to the bottom of the article now if you just want to know why I think the 4th ad is bad). Removing the sidebar and adding a fourth ad is great for Google! The changes are wonderful arguments and sales points for encouraging prospects to sign up for PPC management. Four businesses being featured in prime real estate will further drive cost per click competition and in turn likely generate more ad revenue for the big guy. This is all good for agencies that provide PPC management (like us). It will make the impression and CTR metrics more meaningful. Accruing impressions for a sidebar ad that had a fraction of a fraction of a percent likelihood of engagement never made sense. Especially on a PPC not CPM model (more on this later).

Google is Simplifying their Layout

Google has really simplified their layout over the past year or so, getting rid of the seven pack map listings (now 3 pack) was huge. Getting rid of sidebar ads makes things easier for the user and should attenuate their focus on the remaining above-the-fold content (even if the giant blank space on the right begs being filled). Adding the 4th ad to the top increases the ad real-estate by a margin of 70-100 pixels in many cases. They’re now saying: “If you want to see organic results you’re REALLY going to have to scroll.” So much so in fact that basic queries now produce a visible space almost entirely occupied by ads.

Google search for locksmith - new ad placement

The 4th Ad Shouldn’t Come as a Big Surprise

Mobile search for a locksmith

This 4th ad shouldn’t come as a big surprise though. Mobile screens have been completely filled by three ads for a long time and people still scroll. The 4th ad hasn’t translated to mobile devices yet, and I’m not sure it will. If it does that would comprise a MUCH larger grab of screen space than the addition on desktop. Would it even matter though?

Let’s think about the audience here. Statistics reporting 15% of searchers engage with an ad have been widely touted across the net for a long time. So, will adding a single new ad to the line up greatly increase this engagement? Probably not.

Existing users are already conditioned to ignore advertisements and scroll to map and organic results.

I NEVER click on an ad when performing a regular search, EVER. This lack of ad engagement on my part has nothing to do with my involvement in the search marketing industry either. I’ve always ignored all ads irrespective of the medium, and instead prefer to spend time looking into websites, businesses, services, or products directly. I actively use ad-blocking extensions on my browsers as well. I’m not concerned about the argument that sites use ads to generate revenue or provide free content, because I believe any revenue generated from said ads should be based on ACTUAL engagement with those ads. As someone who never meaningfully engages with an ad (the exception being in regard to research as a Search Engine Marketer) no-one is being harmed by me blocking ads. In fact the more people that block ads, the better for the businesses advertising. A huge amount of ad space is sold on CPM (cost per thousand impressions) isn’t this silly when SO many of these impressions have NO prospect of providing value for an advertiser? Stop paying for impressions!

What about Ads Becoming More Relevant?

One could argue that technology is improving all of the time, and there is a greatly increasing likelihood of “relevant” ads getting shown to the denizens of the net. Maybe I’ll miss out on an important ad that would’ve changed my life because of this! Let’s be serious. I’ll always ignore the ad ESPECIALLY if I’m doing a branded search (don’t want the business being charged for click when I was already looking for them). The only exception to this in my opinion is remarketing/retargeting. If I’ve already been to your website then I’ve shown some interest in you, I’m okay with you following me around and yelling at me for 30 days or so until I convert or don’t. You proved yourself of enough interest to gain my initial attention, that means you deserve the chance to regain it if possible.

Goodby, Side Ads: And Good Riddance

Okay, anti ad rant aside. I think most searchers are already ignoring ads, and will continue to ignore the ads. I ignored the sidebar ads, you ignored the sidebar ads, everyone ignored the silly things and Google knows it. So why bother showing something that everyone was ignoring? Good riddance. I’ve ignored the top 3 text search ads, the Google Shopping ads, map ads, and will continue to do so, as will most users. The addition of one more ad at the top of the organic results won’t increase my engagement nor will the many callout, sitelink or other extensions that are added to these advertisements.

So let’s circle back. Google removed ads that everyone ignored and that diluted the meaningfulness of some of their CTR and Impression metrics. This is good for advertisers, and good for searchers.

Why I Don’t Like the 4th Ad

Google also added a 4th ad to the desktop results. What do I think about this?

I think this is bad. Yes, after all of the above I’m finally telling you, I think this is bad. Anything that makes a searcher have to work harder to find GENUINE content on the internet is a HUGE slap to the face. Why is it so bad when 85% of people are going to ignore it anyway? Because of the 15%. Do you know who comprise that group of people who engage with those ads? There is a disproportionate amount older people in this group, as well as other people who are more susceptible to advertisements which may not necessarily be the best result for them.

Organic Results are Better, and Safer than PPC Ads

Organic results are better, and safer than PPC ads.This may not have been true a few years ago when affiliate marketers and scammers dominated the SERP’s using black hat techniques, but it’s true now for the same reasons that engaging with a legitimate television commercial during prime time is safer than dialing a late night infomercial number. It’s more expensive.What’s more expensive? SEO. Organic results are more expensive in terms of time and energy to be ranked. Like TV commercials, the high cost serves as a barrier of entry and keeps scammers and predators out (there are exceptions of course). Google has worked tirelessly to improve their algorithm, and it’s getting better and better all the time. Low quality, irrelevant, and scammer sites continue to drop like flies every time an update comes out. Organic results which feature real, quality and relevant content can now certainly be trusted more often than PPC results (at least in competitive industries and populated areas). In order to be featured in those top organic results that company, or writer, had to invest substantial resources in generating that content and nurturing it. They’ve had to run the gauntlet put forth by Penguins, Pandas and Pigeons, Google’s animal named search algorithm updates. In other words, they’ve earned the right to be shown there, and they deserve it.

They've earned it most often by striving to be the MOST RELEVANT to the searcher and providing the BEST experience for the customer!

A PPC advertiser needs about 10 minutes to set up a bare bones campaign and can be showing above the fold on queries in no time at all. Maybe their budget is very low, but with creative advertising and bidding strategies they’ll get top four placement/visibility enough to generate a few clicks. Maybe they’ve got a lot of money and will have good visibility a good amount of time. But these ads could be from anybody, anywhere, at any time. The owners of these ads could’ve scammed people a thousand different ways, a thousand different times, with a thousand different faces, and their websites could’ve been relegated to the nether regions of the internet due to shady practices in the past. But with PPC ads they can slap together a new site and put it in front of hundreds, or even thousands of searches in no time at all. If it was a scam and is reported no problem, just rinse wash and repeat, you’re back on top in no time.

You can't do that organically, not by a long shot.

Those locksmith screenshots.: Go visit some of those URL’s. Some are legit, some are websites that I could’ve created in 15 minutes. With web design getting easier than ever, how is an average user supposed to differentiate the quality or legitimacy of a service provider from assessing the website alone, let alone say an elderly/disadvantaged person? Who’s to say that any of those advertisers represent a real, trustworthy, licensed or insured business? One of those sites says $15 services in your area! Who’s to say he’s not going to quote you $70 on the phone to come unlock your car, but when he get’s there charge you $210 because of unforeseen complications or that you have laser cut keys or some other bogus excuse? (this is common!)

Come on Google, you work so hard to make sure your organic results are real, quality sites. Don’t make us scroll more to find them. And don’t make it easier to get top visibility on the results that you go through VERY little effort qualify. You just gave MANY more businesses the chance to be above the fold and above quality results.