What Google's SERP Update Means For You

by Christopher Getman @ EarQ Group, Inc.

03.25.2016

What Happened?

On February 19, 2016, Google updated their search engine results page (SERP) to no longer show paid search ads (aka search engine marketing) on the right-hand side. The original display had 2 ads at the top, then the organic results, 2 ads at the bottom, and a long list of ads on the right. By contrast, the new display now shows four ads at the top, then the organic results, and three subsequent ads at the bottom, with no SEM ads at the right.

The change resulted in widespread speculation that this would drive up the cost-per-click for ads and that SEM campaigns for smaller businesses would no longer be able to compete. However, this turned out to be untrue.

 

Why the Change?

Why did Google make this change in the first place? Closer examination will reveal that overall, this change is for the better.

1. Consistency across desktop and mobile

Recent statistics reveal that mobile searches now constitute the majority (at around 60%). The previous SERP on the desktop didn’t coincide with what mobile users saw. This new change—which only affects the desktop display—fixes that. Additionally, clicks to the side and bottom ads on the old SERP only accounted for 14.6% of all clicks, so removing the side ads doesn't result in many lost opportunities.

2. Improved user experience

By utilizing a display with less distractions, the new SERP is cleaner and easier to read than before.

THEN:

The Google SERP, then

NOW:

The Google SERP, now

3. Relevancy

Investigation of the right-hand side ads showed that in many instances, ads became less relevant the further you got down the list. Whereas the first few ads might have lined up perfectly with the search term, the need to fill the entire right-hand side resulted in the pulling of ads that became less and less relevant to the search term.

 

What Does This Mean?

In the weeks that followed the change, industry experts watched the numbers and were pleased to discover that:

1. Impressions went down, but click-throughs went up

Now that only relevant ads are being shown and distracting ads are gone, clicks to the visible ads have climbed. The ads have moved, but they haven’t disappeared.

2. Cost-per-click has only increased by 8-10% on average

The initial speculation that the cost-per-click (CPC) would skyrocket has been unfounded. It is true that the cost has climbed, but with the improved click-through rate (CTR) in place, it still balances out in favor of the advertiser.

We examined a cross-section of our own SEM data from four locations nationwide and it shows:

SEM CPC before and after

 

3. The ads look better, plain and simple

The new display allows all ads to now use call-out extensions and site-link extensions, whereas the previous display could only allow that feature to a few per SERP. The ads look more "native" as a result, which is just another aspect that improves the user experience.

 

What's the Downside?

Organic search is the loser in this change. Organic results are now placed lower, which results in the potential for them to be "below the fold," requiring users to scroll down to even see the first result.

 

However, done well, organic results can speak better to the user because there are now less distractions around them.

 

What Can We Do?

We've only seen improved Iris performance since the Google update. In addition to the increased click-through rates shown above, we've also seen our patient acquisition cost lowered by 11% in the first few weeks!

It's an exciting time of change, but through it all we will continue to do what we've been doing all along: good work. Our Iris sites and SEM ads will continue to perform well if we continue to build them right. Optimized sites with well-written and relevant content and regular updates, the claiming of business listings, and other factors will continue to land our Iris participants where they belong in the search results: right at the top.

 

Conclusion

Google’s change is actually a very good one. We will continue to keep our eyes on it, and regardless of what happens, we will never cease to polish, enhance, and optimize the Iris packages for all of our members to be the best in our industry.

The modern SERP may now consist of the following:

The complete SERP in March 2016

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