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Why Google's latest change is it's biggest in the last decade

Profile image for Andy Headington

Whilst I’d read a few days earlier that Google had spiked it’s showing of four PPC ads rather than usual the usual 1-3, I didn’t realise that the two things would be linked and that such as a sudden and fundamental change was happening.

 

 

 

By making the change, Google has fundamentally altered the searcher experience, not only forcing more paid ads onto the searcher above the fold (to, you know, unify the user experience across devices… erm, right) but pushing SEO listings even further below the fold.

I’ve not seen any real analysis yet from the Moz team on what this means in terms of exposure of SEO listings but my hunch is that users will pay less attention to them in the grand scheme of things.

I tried out a few random searches last night to play spot the organic listing…

 

 

Nope.

 

 

 

No organic listings here, oh dear.

 

 

 

THERE'S ONE!

 

 

Ooh, and another!

 

 

Ah yes, lots of organic listings here. Phew.

What’s interesting to me is that for over a decade Google has tried to maximise the paid results by showing anything from 10 to 13 ads (depending on the query) on the results page by having some paid ads above the organic listings and then having some more on the right hand side.

When I think back to talks I did from 2005-2010, virtually a whole room of 50 people would say they didn’t click on paid ads. They were too obvious (had coloured background), often less useful (due to poor set up) and ultimately less trustworthy (‘we don’t like being sold to’ was the most common answer). Google needed to maximise its screen seal estate and even a few click on the bottom right hand corner of results made them millions of dollars a year.

In the last five years, ads have become almost indistinguishable from the organic listings, adopting the same colour and look with the exception of the small orange ad icon. Advertisers have been rewarded over many years for creating more relevant ads and this has worked in the users and advertisers favour, ultimately benefitting Google the most.

 

An exploitation of a monopoly?

We are now at a point where users feel it is ok to click ads and Google is happier for there to be less of them on the screen, albeit taking the best positions. User satisfaction has always been Google’s #1 from a PR point of view. There has also been a practical argument to say that Google needs to keep its users happy to in order for them to keep searching on other search engines. But come on, is that REALLY going to happen?

Google’s market share has been 90+% in most of Europe and massive in the US for years. Are we going to change our behaviour now? Nope. It ain’t going to happen. We’re all t0o ingrained in their services from Gmail to Chrome to Maps even to Google Now to change our ways. Whilst it’s not hard to change browser or set your homepage to bing.com we are inherently lazy and just won’t. Even if they have (rightly) gotten a bad rap recently for not paying anywhere near enough tax. Any talk of Duck Duck Go being the next big thing is just hooey.

Do I think that Google are exploiting their position with advertisers by making them effectively bid for four adspaces? To some extent, yes. While click through rates (CTRs) were always pretty bad in the right hand ads spaces, at least they gave a place for smaller players to get going on Adwords to build some small levels of traffic and history of quality score. Now the only option to get any real traffic is to either get very clever with targeting, which requires quite a lot of labour, or putt your hand even further into your pocket.

I just can’t see the ads in positions featuring at the bottom page getting anymore traffic than they do already and those numbers are usually very poor. To the user, they just want to solve their problem and their click trail always gets less the further down the page they go.

 

The final nail in the coffin of SEO?

Pretty much every year there is talk of the death of SEO. Sure, over the last few years, it’s become a lot harder for smaller brands to rank in organic listings. Big, established brands typically enjoy far more traffic now than they did years ago due to their size and established influence in Google algorithm.

Now, with more PPC ads taking more space above the fold and big brands understanding the value of SEO & content to maintain and grow their authority, it’s just got even harder for SMEs trying to invest in SEO for traffic and conversions.

Is it the death of SEO? No. It’s been tough for a while but for Google to push the organic listings down even further below the fold (as illustrated above) makes it even harder to get proper ROI from SEO. The only exception is where the phrases that are being targeted are not very competitive or commercial where perhaps only one or two PPC ads might show. But given every business is commercial and competitive to some degree having organic listings in prominent positions for business terms is going to be very much the exception rather than the rule.

 

What next?

This is a very new change so we can’t say for sure what the long term impact will be. Google will continue to tweak and change the coverage of PPC ads in top positions I’m sure. but given they’ve cut their adspaces from 11 - 13 to 7 in the main I only expect more PPC to be shown from now on.

Organic rankings will struggle to make it above the fold on both desktop and mobile and my guess is that they will only slip further down from this point onwards. There is simply too much money at stake for Google to go back to the days of giving more exposure to non-revenue generating listings.

If you want some simple answers, there are two. Firstly, move your marketing budgets around to push more into PPC. Secondly, if you don’t like it, vote with your fingers, leave Google and change over to Bing, Yahoo or perhaps even Duck Duck Go.

Nope, didn’t think so.

 

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