Breaking Down the Latest Google Search Results Update:

Google recently made changes to the layout of their search results page, which I have broken down below. They made four significant changes:

  1. They removed the paid ads from the right side on desktop search results.
  2. They removed the salmon shaded box surrounding the paid ads at the top of the search results
  3. They increased the width of the paid ads so they are as long as the organic ads.
  4. They increased the number of paid ads that appear at the top of search results from three, and even four for some search queries.

There is certainly a lot going on here so let’s take them one at a time:

  1. You can see that removing the right-hand column creates a results page that is more in-line and consistent with the mobile experience, where there is only one column of ads.
  2. Removing the salmon shaded box around the ads certainly makes it far more difficult (at a glance) to see which ads are paid ads and which are organic. There is a small icon that says “ad” if you look closely.
  3. Similarly, removing the Salmon shaded box and elongating the ads so they are the same width as the organic ads also makes it less clear to distinguish which ads are paid and which are organic.
  4. Lastly, with increasing the paid ads from 3 to 4 ads, it is pushing the organic search results down placing more emphasis on the paid ad options.

On the surface, the majority of these changes appear to be predominantly cosmetic. However, according to Google, (and we have corroborated this with our data) that when there are four paid search ads at the top of the page, the search query has “high commercial intent.”

So let’s push the academics aside & look at a real world example

Below are the search engine results for the phrase “sell your house.”

The four pack of paid ads is present at the top, which indicates what? That’s right, that there is a “High commercial intent” query.

If you look at the context of all the organic ads, you can see that they are all informational intent results. Web pages that talk about best practices for how to stage your home or prepare it to be shown – which is all good content, but not necessarily lined up with the search intent for this user.

So, this is a great opportunity for a PPC Marketer to capitalize on that searcher by showing an ad for a brokerage and who can “actually sell your house for you”!

What does it mean that Google is showing more paid results for commercial intent queries?

For one thing, it is clear that Google is attempting to align its content to be more in line with the customer journey and they’re doing that by providing a greater number of transactional results for queries with transactional intent.

Statistically the split between paid and organic traffic is 80/20 weighted to organic, meaning that more people click on organic ads than paid. So even with the most fortified paid search account, you are only going after 20 percent of the market share.

However, since searches with high commercial intent will display more ads at the top of the page than other searches, it should come as no surprise that clickthrough rates on organic search results will be lower for these queries and we will begin to see a widening in the 80/20 gap increasing PPC’s percentage of traffic to be higher than 20 percent.

It is at this pivotal time that paid search marketers will want to increase their presence and capitalize on this shift from three to four ads because there is far more opportunity to present content when search queries are for transactional terms.

I will close with our research data that we talked about earlier.

Here are the statistics for running PPC on keywords that you rank in the top position organically. You can see after the PPC is added, there is in fact some cannibalization of the SEO traffic. However when you look at the overall traffic increase, it is incremental by 50 percent from what was there previously.

Here is the same data but looking at SEO keywords that rank on the first page in either position No. 2 or 10, but not in the first position. When adding the same keywords in PPC, the cannibalization drops to less than 5 percent and the incremental traffic is almost double at 96 percent!

Imagine if you knew your high transactional intent SEO keywords that both drove traffic to your site and converted for your business, and you doubled that traffic?! As long as the revenue generated from the conversions on this incremental traffic exceeds the investment cost of running PPC, then it is a no brainer for your business and should be ramped up!

Good luck!