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At the end of February, Google quietly rolled out changes to the way it positions ads for its desktop search engine results page (SERP). Previously, users would see ads positioned on the right-hand side of the page, as well as the top three positions in the results list.

With these new changes, ads are only displayed in the top 3-4 positions of the search results list leaving the right hand side awkwardly blank.

These updates to the SERP mean that everything before the fold (where you scroll down to see the rest of the page) is a paid advertisement. It is also important to note that that there are now MORE organic search results, however, they all appear after the fold.

These changes are definitely going to affect both the user experience and the way in which SEOs and PPC administrators conduct their work. But what does it really mean?

Why All the Changes?

Eye-tracking tests have been performed by both Google and other agencies to check exactly where the user is looking during their search experience. The consensus from these studies is that the ads that were found on the right hand side of the page were under-performing. Studies have also found that the average user does not necessarily differentiate between paid advertising and organic search results.

With this knowledge in hand, it makes sense that Google would take steps to move away from side bar ads and integrate them into the main search list. Google makes money from each click on paid advertisements, so it is in their best interest to reposition the under-performing ads in an area that gets more user attention.

It is also important to point out that no PPC ads have been lost. Instead, Google redistributed the right hand ads to appear both at the top and the bottom of the SERP.

With all ads appearing in the vertical search list, this new desktop experience is much more similar to the mobile search experience.

What Does This Mean for You?

The jury is out on the effects that this change will have to user experience. The changes have been in place for less than a month, so it is hard to collect any hard data to evaluate the situation.

These changes will have two major impacts on website owners and search engine marketing companies. First, small to medium businesses may struggle to outbid larger businesses for those coveted 3-4 top paid positions. The question will be whether it is worth it to be found there. Will the average user become more familiar with Google’s advertising methods and scroll past to organic – or will they continue to click on the ads because they do not distinguish between paid and organic?

Secondly, SEO companies will have to worker harder and aim higher. All organic search results now appear below the fold and getting closer to the top will mean even more. Extra SEO work will become vital for those companies who cannot afford to bid on the premium PPC spots at the top of the SERP.

The most important thing to do is to pay close attention to your highest preforming keywords and really refine your list. Get rid of the under-performing keywords and focus more on bidding for your top performers.

Moving Forward

Google is always changing the way that they do things and they are not very vocal about it. Whether you are managing your own search engine marketing or working with an agency, it is important to stay on the pulse. A strong line of communication between you and your agency can really help to minimize any negative repercussions from a Google shake-up of its search algorithms – both paid and organic.

Testing different SEO and PPC methods, as well as, being diligent with under-performing ads will also be necessary.  It has never been more important to have a perfect blend of social, paid, and organic marketing so that your customers have the opportunity to find you whether they are searching for you on a social media platform or a traditional search engine.

Are you competing in the same playing field as your competitors? If not, then you may be missing out on growth opportunities that are being dominated by your competitors. Perhaps it’s time to look for help from a digital marketing agency with professional Pay per Click Management expertise.