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The effects of Google’s search engine results page (SERP) changes

You may have noticed recently that Google have changed the way they list paid search ads on the engine. Previously, ads were shown on the top left hand side of the results page and also down the right, giving up to 11 potential first page ads that were all relatively visible and above the fold. However, the recent change means that Google now only shows up to 4 ads on the top left hand side of the page, or at the very bottom of the page underneath the organic (non-paid) results. The change in paid search ad formatting has been rolled out to all devices and sectors across Google to make the playing field fair for all.


The reduced visibility of ads below position number 4 will certainly drive up demand for positions 1-4 on desktop and tablet devices. Early March figures show roughly a 60% increase in costs-per-click (CPCs) so far on most ‘generic’ search terms used across a large range of industries we manage at ARM; for example ‘Buy Shoes Online’. The change has made the need to bid aggressively more important than ever.

This may be an attempt for Google to bring desktop and tablet SERPs in line with mobile, so all devices follow a similar look and feel. It might also be an incentive for more advertisers to use mobile as an alternative to desktop, where traffic can be acquired for 50% of the cost for many search terms. This could be born from the fact that mobile now delivers over 50% of search traffic, making it the highest volume driving device over desktop and tablet combined.

One of the main industries being affected by this change is charities, and as we work very closely with many charities who strive to increase awareness of their cause, it is safe to say that their bids now need to be increased by almost 65% in order to maintain above the fold visibility.

The Google Grant

Charities are given a monthly grant allowance by Google, in the form of something called a ‘Grants Account’. However, this generous contribution is given with specific restrictions, the biggest of which is the maximum CPC bid limit of $2. This may seem high to many industries, but when it comes to charity themed keywords, this will only achieve an average position of 5-6, which under the new Google format will prevent many charities from showing at all. Perhaps this rollout should have been considered at an industry level to prevent such issues, but at what point are Google then accused of being unfair?

So, how do we resolve this growing problem?

Quality score will start to become more of a key focus than ever before when optimising an account. Better quality scores ultimately help to generate lower CPCs and higher ad positions. This is the only sure fire way to get the upper hand in the realm of PPC when the market, or algorithm changes start to increase the cost of bids.

We also need to start focusing more on data. Deploying audience-led campaigns will help to refine the searchers who see your ad, restricting visibility to those with a lower propensity to convert. It is important to think about demographical targeting, location targeting, RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) audiences; anything that can help you to reach a more relevant ad viewer which may help to lower your cost-per-conversion and justify the increase in costs.

Finally, explore opportunities available within Google Analytics. Analytics offers a wealth of data which can help to refine audiences and remarketing strategies within PPC advertising. Look at retargeting people with lower bounce rates when visiting your site, or indeed those who have engaged more intently with the site content. This could help to reduce that chance of a lost lead, and increase conversions along the way