Sunday, February 28, 2016

Google is Changing its SERP (Search Engine Results Page): What You Need to Know

To appear on the first page of search engine results, a website has two options: organic SEO or paid advertising. Many websites choose to use a mix of organic SEO and paid advertising to ensure placement on the first SERP (search engine result page).

Organic SEO is the most cost-effective solution to online marketing, yet SEO can take time to produce a first page result. For most websites, the result is worth the wait. A first page organic ranking is the most effective means of attracting an audience.

For new websites, however, paid advertisements can be a quick, easy way to attract an audience. With Google AdWords, for example, you can quickly target a specific search to display your own text ad--traditionally above or below organic results, or to the right side of the SERP.

Yet paid advertising--referred to as PPC (Pay-Per-Click) or CPC (Cost-Per-Click) by Google--is a costly marketing method.  When a visitor clicks on your ad, you pay a fee.

Google ads traditionally appeared at the top and right side of a SERP. 
Despite the prominence of AdWords, many browsers choose to trust 
the first organic result. [Photo Source]

Traditionally, a Google SERP included up to eleven paid advertisements and eleven (or more) organic results. Last Friday, Google announced a major change to their SERP. The search engine confirmed it will no longer display ads on the right side of the page.

The change now limits SERP ads to a maximum seven-per-page--three (or four, in cases of highly "commercial queries") above the organic search results and three below the organic search results.

For most browsers, this change will likely go unnoticed. For online companies, however, the evolving Google SERP is, indeed, major news.

To our view, the change elicits two fundamental concerns:

The Cost of Paid Advertising

AdWords works on bids. As Google writes:

"AdWords runs an auction every single time it has an ad space available -- on a search result, or on a blog, news site, or some other page. Each auction decides which AdWords ads will show at that moment in that space. Your bid puts you in the auction."

Logically speaking, then, with fewer ads on any given page, the cost of each ad will likely increase. This is, of course, basic supply and demand.

Yet, the increase of top-of-the-page ads (from three to four) might actually decrease bids at the top--and potentially increase bids for bottom ads.

Then again, the efficiency of top-of-the-page ads (when compared to right side ads) might negate the addition of an additional spot. After all, many of the companies that formerly placed bids on right side ads, may shoot for the top. As Search Engine Land notes: "Ads in the banner positions receive 14X the click-through rate of the same ad on the same keyword on the right-hand side."

What is clear, as Search Engine Land notes, is that AdWord strategy is now in flux:

"Advertisers running bid-to-position strategies will need to make updates. That alone may cause auction patterns to fluctuate for a period as advertisers react to one another’s adjustments."

The Value of Organic SEO 

In his post on the new SERP layout, Larry Kim wrote, "the clear loser with this change is organic search. Paid position #4 is the new organic position #1."


Now, Kim's foreboding does dovetail with the notion that certain consumers do not distinguish the difference between ads and organic results. In fact, a few years ago, a research study revealed that 40% of consumers did not distinguish the difference. As Econsultancy reported:

"41 out of the 100 individuals tested did not know that Adwords were paid-for adverts, believing them instead to be the most authoritative links."

Still, even the findings of this study reveal that a majority of consumers do understand the difference. And even more comprehensive research, cited by Econsultancy in 2011, revealed that most browsers prefer organic results:

"Paid search only accounts for 6% of total clicks from search engines versus natural search at 94% of clicks, according to research from GroupM UK carried out with Nielsen."

For those browsers who understand the difference between ads and organic results, organic results will likely always be the top choice. For these browsers, another AdWord does not at all diminish the effect of the first (or subsequent) organic results.

In reality the change to Google's SERP layout increases the value of organic SEO. Or, as Search Engine Land noted, "increasing [costs] will mean that your SEO has to do more work than ever before."

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