Have you noticed that Google's search results look different lately? In mid-March, Google tweaked the search results page layout. The most notable change, from a consumer perspective, is hyperlinks are no longer underlined, which doesn't appear to affect businesses. But this update also included a key change to sponsored ads.
Now that paid search results are marked with a small yellow "Ad" box, are they more or less obvious to consumers? Ads remain just as prominent, but appear more like search results and less like advertisements. This is a direct attempt by Google to get more people to click on ads and for them to get more money from advertising.
More people clicking on ads should be good for marketers, right? More clicks equals more traffic to your Web page. Maybe. If the ads are well-targeted and users want to see them, then it's a great thing! Digital marketers already know that the more targeted your ads, the better they perform.
Let's use an example of a well-targeted ad. Google users have been conditioned over the years to know that a highlighted bar is an ad. Now that there's no such distinction, someone searching for Nordstrom might click the ad or the top organic result. Either way, they'll be directed to the website. No harm, no foul, and Nordstrom receives relevant traffic, either way.
What about a query that's less direct, such as "best hotels in Vegas"? A user could be looking to book, or could be looking for reviews. If a booking site with the top paid ad sees a spike in traffic, site owners may want to track their conversion rate. Post-change, some of this traffic could be from users who are confused about the new format.
What's a marketer to do if conversion rate betrays consumers' confusion? Consider things from a consumer perspective and determine where the wrong turns are in the journey to your site. Take a look at queries and weed out or adjust poorly performing keywords. Lower bids on poorly performing keywords. Then, do the same once a few months have passed and consumers have had time to adjust to the change.
If users don't like the change, it could spell trouble for Google, as well. Some Google users actively avoid ads, and there is a possibility that those users will perceive the change as a trick to lure them into clicking on more ads. That would reduce user satisfaction with Google as a search engine and tempt them to go elsewhere. I can picture Bing and Yahoo right now, compulsively watching their metrics hoping to see increases in the number of searches. And then, marketers would ditch Google and migrate to these other search engines. It's truly not in Google's best interest for people to accidentally click on ads.
Because the change only went into effect this month, it is still too early to generalize how it will impact marketers. For now, digital marketers can track SEO and PPC metrics to see how their brands are being affected immediately.
Again, I recommend tracking your clickthrough and conversion rates closely. If you're getting far more clicks but conversion stays the same, then we can deduce that the change is tricking more people into clicking on the ads. But they're not well-targeted. That would spell trouble for Google and may be an indicator that it's time to "Bing it on." If the conversion rate increases as well, then this could be a great change.
Something else to track is your paid vs. organic Web traffic. If this change goes according to Google's plan, we should see an increase in paid traffic. That could mean a dip in your organic traffic.
Have you noticed any changes to your clickthrough or conversion rates? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter, @mothner.
Michael Mothner is the Founder and CEO of Wpromote, the largest independent marketing agency in the US. Along with founding Wpromote in 2001, he has also ventured into other enterprises such as ScanDigital and CouponPal, which was spun off of Wpromote’s performance marketing division into an independent company. A regular industry speaker and commentator, he has been featured by Inc. Magazine as one of "30 CEOs under 30 To Watch" and was the recipient of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Entrepreneurial Spirit Award.