Google made a big impact on the SEM (Search Engine Marketing) world today by rolling out a major change in the way AdWords ads for desktop search results appear to users. Starting February 22, 2016, Google search results from desktop browsers will no longer include ads to the right of search results, with the exception of PLA (Product Listing Ads) boxes and ads in the Knowledge Panel. One of the core reasons Google gave is to align the design of desktop results with their mobile product, which displays results in a singular column for obvious reasons. The Media Image has also speculated this change being due to the sidebar ads performing below expectations. While the long-term impacts of this change won't be known for quite some time, there are two critical day one effects that you should be aware of right now.
AN UPPERCUT TO ORGANIC SEARCH RESULTS
The new changes will be felt even if your company doesn't use AdWords. In addition to getting rid of the sidebar ads, Google is adding an additional ad to the top of results although they say only "highly commercial queries" will be impacted. This dramatically affects companies relying on organic results as they will all be pushed further down the page. In some cases the first organic result will even be pushed below the fold, requiring users to scroll in order to find the first non-ad result. This will turn back the clock and bring SEO (Search Engine Optimization) back into the forefront, as having a top organic ranking will become even more crucial to being found in results.
A LEFT HOOK TO ADWORDS USERS
For those companies who are actively using AdWords, I'm sure you've got a good idea of what's going to happen with fewer ads displayed per search. Less real estate for ads is going to increase competition for the few spots available above the organic results. Advertisers' CPCs (Cost-Per-Click) will increase as they boost their bids in a dogfight against each other for one of those top 4 positions. It will be interesting to see just how much this affects the prices of bids. One of the best things about AdWords was that it allowed SMBs (Small to Medium Businesses) to compete with the big boys for adspace. If the bidding landscape becomes too skewed, does that push SMBs away from the service and towards other platforms? Because AdWords doesn't rely on bids alone, I think we're also looking at an increased focus on the Quality Score component in the coming weeks.
Improving the quality of the ads shown is certainly a good thing for everyone who uses Google. But while reducing the overall number of ads might be a bright spot for consumers, I don't think there will be mass appreciation for an increased number of them appearing before search results. This sentiment is likely to be shared by those who've spent many hours working on their site's SEO, only to have the results of their work appear below the fold anyway. What I'll be watching the closest though, is the impact this has on the viability of AdWords for SMB owners and their online marketing efforts.
Interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Send me a tweet and let me know!