Changes in Google’s Ad Positioning May Affect SEM

How will Google’s recently-announced change in the positioning of paid search ads in the right hand column of organic results impact paid search programs? Unlike tweaks that have no major impact, the announcements by Google, made Nov. 2, could have a significant impact on SEM programs.

Currently, when paid search ads are triggered they show above and on the right hand side of the organic results. This new change, which expects to be completed by the end of November, will show advertisements above the organic results and then either the RHS or below the organic searches.

Google expressed that they dynamically optimize each search page, including its ads, to provide the best experience for our users. In certain cases, displaying ads below search results fits better into the user’s flow as they scan the page from top to bottom.

This change is in line with our key design principles of focus, presenting information to users when they need it most – and elasticity – allowing flexibility in layout depending on the user’s needs and environment. It is still unknown which type of queries will trigger the different types of ad placements, but once those changes take place, optimizations shall follow.

What prompted Google to change how their ads were displayed? In 2009, Google was experimenting with eyescan software. This allowed Google to track an individual’s tendencies and movement throughout Google’s landscape. One can only suspect that from the data collected in those trials warranted the change in Google’s ad placements.

Once the new placements are rolled out you can expect ads to be shown “below the fold,” meaning you would need to scroll down on your screen, making it necessary to find those advertisements at the bottom of the organic results. If an individual triggers an ad “below the fold” and he/she does not scroll down an impression is still recorded, when normally it would be shown on the right hand side of the results page.

There are currently times when ads are below the fold and generate an impression without the searcher seeing it, which evidently hurts the CTR. In Google’s new rollout this can happen much more frequently due to no ads showing on the right hand side of the screen. This has people thinking the change could potentially decrease the advertiser’s click-through rate.

There was an initial thought that all right hand side ads would disappear making people think that Google will make people bid top dollar prices for showing in top position. You will have inexperienced marketers running to their computers and bumping up bids because they think consumers will not be searching at the bottom of Google’s search results page. If this happens you could potentially see an increase in cost per clicks for the top three positions.

Google has expressed to marketers that the change in ad placements can be different from one query to another. When Google was asked if bottom ads get a higher or lower click-through rate than right hand side ads, they responded that bottom ads have been seen to perform comparably to right hand side ads in experiments, but individual ad performance may vary.

Merchants should take a wait-and-see approach before making any drastic changes to their ads. If you act prematurely and raise bids you can potentially be paying more money than what is needed to show in the proper position.

Throughout the brief history of search engine marketing, there have been numerous changes by Google and other engines, the merger of Bing and Yahoo, and a constantly evolving search landscape. Now is the time to develop strategies based on what happens to your search results on Google for your ads that have been appearing on the right hand side that are moved to the bottom:

  • Metrics remain the same
  • They improve
  • They decline

Clearly the case to be concerned about is the last one. Since this change is just a week old, thinking about a strategy should results decline makes sense, but waiting to implement it until you determine that the results are unfavorable.

Steve Regan is a search specialist and Dorothy Weaver is vice president-digital marketing services, both with customer acquisition agency Acquirgy.

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