Recent changes being considered by Google to its SERP serve as a reminder to brand marketers to always be aware of the search company’s evolution so that your brand results are supporting overall goals. Always carefully monitor measurement and explore reasons why results may not match up with previous efforts.
Google is continually looking for ways to improve user experience with its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) to tighten its stronghold on the search market. One of its more recent major changes involves the look of paid ads vs. organic listings (a natural or unpaid listing of a website on a search result page that Google has crawled and deemed valuable for the search term being used) and it’s generating a lot of discussion in the search industry.
Recently, a new format was rolled out on desktops that blends the look of ads and organic listings. Google’s intention was to help users more easily see where the information is coming from. It is also in response to web publisher’s requests for brand iconography to appear on the SERP. These updates can have many perhaps unintended implications for the user’s experience, resultant behaviors and your website traffic.
Frequent Google Ad Updates Changes
We’ve seen many iterations of the Google SERP page, including a very simple layout in the early years with nothing but hyperlinked text and a blue background behind ads to differentiate them from organic listings below. Between 2007 and 2019, there has been notable iterations to the look and feel of the SERP:
Most of these changes involved creating a more modern and streamlined look, while creating a clear demarcation for users between what are paid listings (ads) and what are organic (not paid).
January Google Update to More Analogous View
In the latest SERP change, Google experimented with a new format using bold black ‘AD’text next to ads, and colorful, branded favicons next to organic listings:
This change was meant to bring a level of seamlessness to the text ads and gives them a more natural (or organic) feel, while allowing users to better identify where contact is coming from (what brands, publishers and websites).
The same SERP format was implemented on mobile devices in May 2019 and was first visible on desktop computers on January 24, 2020.
Google claimed that user feedback was largely positive, saying that the new format made it easier to scan results more quickly and that content sources were more easily identifiable. While the rollout of this new format to mobile devices was well-received, the rollout on desktop was met with mixed reviews.
The primary concern with Google’s Ad format in desktop is that it may make it too difficult for the user to distinguish between paid ads and organic listings and could lead to increased fees for mistaken ad clicks.
How This New Format Could Affect Your Website Traffic
Though we cannot know Google’s intentions with certainty, we do know that they listened to nay-sayers and quickly reverted to the original format on January 28, 2020, with continued testing and experimentation underway. As of the publish date of this POV, Google SERPs include the bolded ‘AD’ text next to ads and no brand favicons next to organic listings. This testing means that this new format, or some version of it, could come back any day now, so it’s important to understand its possible implications to both paid and organic search traffic to your site.
From a paid perspective, there are a few possible outcomes and implications to be aware of:
- Potential rise in cost-per-clicks (CPCs) as more advertisers may try to sneak into the paid slots and disguise as organic
- Increase in competitive bidding as well as overall increases in keyword CPCs
- Possible fluctuations in Share of Voice and CPCs as brands and advertisers adjust to the new formats
There is also a possibility for a dip in organic traffic if some users are unable to determine the ad vs the first organic listing (and most relevant non-paid option), though most likely this would be minimal.
What Steps We Can Take Now
In preparation for any possible rollbacks to this more seamless SERP view, there are steps you and your search team can take now to be prepared:
- Keep an eye on the data to identify any sudden or unexplainable changes.
Key data points include:
- Organic and paid traffic
- Keyword Rankings
- Featured snippet results
- Campaign Spend
- Conversion rates
- Work with your paid and SEO teams to pinpoint notable shifts in performance of any keywords, specifically those shared by both organic and paid. It may be prudent to shift more budget in paid campaigns if organic rankings and clicks decline.
- Monitor CPCs closely and bid more competitively on ads when necessary.
- Document Google’s updates alongside your website data (Google Analytics allows for easy annotations) to easily identify any correlations.
- Make sure your site favicon is correctly implemented for Google SERP so that Google can more easily pull the correct version for your brand.
- Make sure your website and ads are properly optimized to ensure the best possible user experience with focused, audience-targeted content, meta data and keyword lists.
- Advertisers should also more frequently monitor search query reports to ensure the ads are generating relevant impressions and clicks.
As experts in the search space, the search team at CMI/Compas keeps a close eye on any changes that may impact your website. We will work to keep you informed of any new updates to the Google SERP page in the coming days and months. If you have any questions regarding this or any other recent changes, please reach out to your CMI/Compas contact for more details regarding your website performance.