How Google's Paid Search Layout Affects Organic Search Results
Changes to Google's paid search results are making it harder for SEO experts to get traffic to their websites the old-fashioned way. But as always, online marketers are finding ways to adapt — but with less real estate available, it isn't easy.
The big change came earlier this year when Google stopped showing paid search results on the right side of its search engine result pages (SERPs). Google made the change to streamline the user experiences for mobile and desktop, following the announcement that mobile searches now outnumber desktop searches worldwide. But all changes have consequences. To make up for losing side-rail ad placements, Google added extra ad space to the top of some SERPs. Organic search results had already been forced down the page by videos, images, news listings and the Knowledge Graph. The additional ad listing is enough to force organic results completely below the fold, requiring users to scroll down to find them.
Obviously, the change is a huge win for marketers who invest heavily in AdWords. The prices for those top-ranked positions have increased, but suddenly you can buy your way to what used to be the top organic search result.
What does this mean for marketers who focus on organic results? The short answer is "it depends." The full answer is a bit more complicated, and it starts with understanding Google's goal of delivering the best possible experiences for people that use its search engine.
Imagine that it's the dead of winter and your furnace stops working. If you don't know much about furnaces, you might immediately grab your smartphone and search Google for "furnace repair" or "emergency furnace repair." Try this now, and you'll likely see four above-the-fold ad placements above a map with nearby companies beneath it. You've got to scroll pretty far down to find your first organic listing.
On the other hand, folks who are handy around the house might do their own troubleshooting before finding a repairman. They might end up making search queries such as "Bryant furnace blower won't turn on." They're not actively seeking help; rather, they're looking for answers for a DIY fix. Try that search query, and you'll probably see a full page of organic search results without a single ad in sight.
Starting to see the big picture?
Organic SEO definitely took a hit when Google reshaped its ad layout, but only for buyer-oriented search queries. By showing more ads with these queries, Google realized it could increase its profits while still providing a high-quality user experience. Meanwhile, Google users in search of product details, research materials or other types of information are more likely to value organic results.
This leaves online marketers with several approaches to the change, and we'll consider each one below.
Solution No. 1: Invest in AdWords
If you're not already using Google AdWords, now is a great time to get started. Getting a top placement in the paid results can be much easier than organic SEO. In fact, savvy advertisers with compelling ads, strong landing pages and high bids can instantly get top-ranking placements.
Of course, paid search results have an obvious downside: They cost money. The days of converting tons of free traffic directly into sales are long gone. That said, don't be intimidated by the thought of paying for traffic. With help from Google Analytics and tools offered within AdWords, it's easy to monitor your advertising accounts and determine which campaigns are boosting your bottom line.
Solution No. 2: Improve Your Local SEO
Paid ads and organic listings shouldn't be your only targets. For buyer-intent search queries, Google usually returns a map with local business listings right below the paid ad placements. These listings may contain website links, clickable driving directions, store hours, phone numbers, addresses and links to reviews. To make your website eligible for these rankings, just start a Google My Business page and ensure your information is accurate.
These local SEO listings are vitally important given the rise of smartphones. Earlier in this post, I mentioned how more people are using mobile devices over desktops to search Google. People are more likely to search via smartphone while sitting at their desks, hanging out with friends, riding the bus, running errands or using the restroom. Taking advantage of mobile SEO can literally put you on the map for potential customers you would have otherwise missed.
In addition to starting a Google My Business page, you should also create business profiles in popular directory sites such as Yelp or Angie's List. Consider launching Facebook and Google+ pages. All of these profiles can help you recover lost ground from diminished organic rankings.
Solution No. 3: Create Non-Buyer Content
The organic SEO game is still alive and well for marketers with the right kinds of content. Remember when we discussed the homeowner troubleshooting a broken furnace? If you owned a furnace repair company, you could blog about common mechanical problems, seasonal heating issues and occasional DIY tips. You could also post troubleshooting guides for different brands of furnaces. This is exactly the kind of content that Google shows on its ad-free SERPs, and it's how organic SEO can still help you reach new customers.
If you're using Google AdWords — or if you're about to get started — then you can also experiment with different landing page layouts for organic and paid traffic. Purchase-motivated visitors will interact with your website differently than those in search of information. Again, Google Analytics can help you get the most from each type of traffic.
There's no doubt that organic search results took a hit when Google reconfigured its paid ads layout. Still, organic search results have tremendous value with research-oriented search queries. It's up to online marketers to audit their websites and social media profiles and think of new ways to connect with potential customers. Given the current trend, it stands to reason that organic search results might be pushed even further down the page, which is why forward-thinking marketers are thinking of how they can pursue both paid and organic traffic.
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Phil is Founder and COO of Main Street ROI. Phil leads the company’s operations and is primary creator of Main Street ROI’s marketing training programs. He is an expert in search engine marketing, website analytics, and sales funnel optimization. Phil’s marketing thought leadership has been published on Forbes.com, Inc.com, MSN.com, and many other major business media outlets.
Phil earned his Master of Engineering Management degree from Thayer School of Engineering and Tuck School of Business and his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Engineering degrees from Dartmouth College. While attending Dartmouth, Phil started every game on the varsity football team as the defensive safety.