How Can You Benefit From Google’s Recent SERP Changes?

The ever-changing landscape of Google’s SERPs is a battlefield for websites trying to remain visible in Google search. Just when you think you’ve nailed the puzzle and found an optimal balance between paid and organic search, Google goes and rewrites the script. That’s exactly what happened in February when the search giant suddenly removed all PPC ads from the side of the search engine results page.

How Can You Benefit From Google’s Recent SERP Changes?

News of the layout change left many worrying that their websites would struggle to stay afloat in search results. And while those challenges have been confirmed for some, especially those who rely too heavily on PPC, the changes have also created new opportunities for organic search. As it turns out, that looming SERP cloud had a silver SEO lining.

A Quick Inventory of the New SERP Layout

Let’s take a look at the new layout and assess its impact on organic search. Google has done away with the PPC ads that used to run along the right-hand-side of their SERP, leaving that side of the page empty.

As you can see in the screenshot below, in place of the old PPC ads, Google now lists up to four paid search results at the top of the fold on every desktop SERP (for less commercially competitive queries, there may be less than four). While these four-ad blocks are appearing more often than the two- and three-ad blocks, it’s doubtful that Google will stick to a singular universal format. After all, the Search giant has a reputation for continuously experimenting with different combinations.

Google search

After the paid search results, Google now lists ten organic search results (as per usual) and three text ads at the bottom of the SERPs, as you can see below.

Google search

So the total number of organic search results (ie. ten blue links) has actually stayed the same – they have just been nudged a bit further down the SERP with the introduction of the new paid results up top.

Without a doubt, those most affected by the change are those who depend exclusively on paid search for visibility. The new layout cuts the number of paid ads for certain kinds of SERPs from as many as 11 to a new maximum of seven. But it may prove to be a case of quality over quantity for advertisers. Whereas the old PPC ads were clearly separated from organic search results, the new format gives paid listings a more ‘native’ appearance, which may well boost their overall appeal to users.

What Does The New SERP Mean For SEO?

For many in the SEO community, the arrival of the new SERP layout triggered a wave of fear and defeatism. But the change is not nearly as threatening as some first feared. For the brands that have made sensible investments in SEO, organic results remain a vital platform (perhaps the most vital platform) for search visibility in this new Google SERPs landscape. Here’s a few reasons why:

1. Top of Mind Still Equals Top of SERP

Don’t look to SEO for an express ticket to business success. There are no such short cuts. SEO should only ever be one arm of a holistic marketing strategy. A healthy and effective marketing mix should have more arms than a Hindu deity.When businesses realize that SEO is just one ingredient (albeit an important ingredient) in the overall recipe for digital success, they are more likely to thrive in search rankings, regardless of SERPs layout changes.

In everything that they do, both online and offline, brands should strive to keep their product or service top of mind for consumers. This may include improving the brand website and user experience, partnering with other brands and events to build social influence, or simply maintaining high standards of customer service.Once you establish a robust brand reputation and build a loyal community of customers around your brand, SEO becomes one of the easier parts of the business success puzzle.

Take for example brands like Kleenex, Coke and Glad Wrap – through rigorous brand development, they have become synonymous with the products that they produce. When Internet users look at a search engine and choose their search terms, the brand name itself becomes a keyword. This automatically doubles the likelihood of the brand topping organic results in SERPs.

2. Don’t Underestimate Google Users

The more digitally literate Google users become, the less susceptible they are to the ‘trickery’ of paid search. In the same way that YouTube watchers skip past the pre-rolls, or TV viewers wait till the commercial break for their bathroom visits, Internet users become resistant to paid advertising. As they learn to differentiate between paid and organic results, discerning Google users are not easily seduced or distracted by ads.

A user who is serious about finding an accurate, quality listing will gladly scroll down that extra half a page to find the legitimate, unpaid search results. As users become more familiar with the new layout and recognize the heavier volume of advertising on the first page of Google SERPs, we expect to see the second and third pages getting more traffic and traction.

3. The Rise of Adblockers

The Rise of Adblockers

Close to 90 per cent of Google’s total revenue in 2014 came from advertising. Of the whopping $59 billion brought in as ad revenue, $45 billion came from ads on Google’s own sites and the rest came from ads served by Google on other sites.According to Alex Hern, “For all its diversification, from smartphone operating systems to self-driving cars, Google is still primarily an online advertising company with a large software company bolted on.”

So it comes as little surprise that the search giant is constantly angling to keep advertisers happy and optimize ad revenue. But we have witnessed a growing resistance to online advertising in recent years, as many users scramble to find ways to dodge advertising and paid search.

A 2014 study by IABshowed that more than a third of American adults used ad blockers in that year. Dozens of ad blocking alternatives are available but the most popular ad blocker on the web is AdBlock Plus. It’s a browser plugin that has been downloaded and installed millions of times for a variety of browsers. A2015 study conducted by PageFair and Adobe Systems Inc. found that 45 million Americans were using such software, up almost 50 per cent from 2014.

More and more, people are using ad blockers to eliminate ads from their web browsing experience and decrease page load times.With this unprecedented rise of adblockers, the noise of paid search results is increasingly drowned out.In this context, brands should maintain a firm commitment to optimizing organic search results.

4. Clean New Layout Improves User Experience

One of the enduring tenets of smart web design is that a clean, uncluttered layout typically makes for a better user experience. Google has clearly kept this in mind with the design of the new SERPs.

With the removal of the PPC ads on the RHS, the new SERP layout is much more streamlined than before. The old layout was arguably more cluttered and spammy. From an SEO perspective, we might wish that organic listings dominated the SERP from top to bottom. But if we accept that Google needs some amount of paid search, this neat new layout certainly presents those paid results in a much cleaner fashion.

5. Paid and Organic Search Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Paid search has always been a great tactic for delivering quick, tangible results. But for longevity and truly robust search performance, organic search remains crucial. More often than not, search engine users click on organic search engine results. Based on a sample of 1.4 billion searches conducted by 28 million people in June 2011, one study showed that 94 per cent of Google and Bing users click on organic results and just 6 per cent of users opt for paid results.

When weighing up the benefits of organic versus paid search success, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you must focus exclusively on one or the other. SEO tactics are often most effective when used in tandem with paid search tactics. A good strategy for getting the most out of the new SERP layout would be a blended search approach that really drives organic results while settling for a lower PPC position. A savvy digital team can achieve this by using tracking tool alerts.

 

Contrary to the fears of the naysayers, the new Google SERP layout has created as many opportunities as it has challenges. Larry Kim’s thorough postmortem examination of the disappearing SERPs layout shows that not only is there life after RHS PPC death, there’s still plenty of room for SEO to thrive. The impact on organic search has certainly not been detrimental, as many predicted it would.

Have you had to adjust your approach to SEO? How has your website been affected by the change? Share your insights and experiences below.

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