New Google SERP Changes Make Ads More Prominent than Ever, Cannibalize Organic Search for Informational Queries


New Google SERP Changes Make Ads Even More Prominent than Ever, Canalizes Organic Searches for Informational Queries

Google has released a refresh of their Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), shifting the search toolbar from the left side to the top of the screen. The top navigation bar (including the new search toolbar) is also approximately 20 pixels less tall compared to the old top navigation bar, so adds appear higher up on the page.

According to Google: "With the new design, there’s a bit more breathing room, and more focus on the answers you’re looking for, whether from web results or from a feature like the Knowledge Graph," the search engine said Tuesday in a blog post.

The stated goal was to create a “simpler, cleaner design” which creates a “consistent search experience across the wide variety of devices and screen sizes people use today."

How the SERP Change Impacts Organic Search

The New Google SERP layout makes the Knowledge Graph listings more prominent. The knowledge graph cannibalizes organic search clicks (which were already on the decline) on informational queries because user queries are often answered directly in the SERP – a user doesn’t even have to click on an organic listing to get basic information about their query.

How the SERP Change Impacts Organic Search and SEO

How the SERP Change Impacts Paid Search

Similarly, the new SERP layout makes paid search ads more much more prominent. By moving the utility bar to the top, there is much more room for the new huge ad formats, like Google Shopping ads, (not to be confused with the Google Shopper app for mobile deviceswhich were so huge they barely fit. The ads now appear more prominently, closer to the left side of the page.

How the SERP Change Impacts Paid Search and PPC

I'd also point out that in order to do query filtering or other search refinemement, that the new search toolbar placement makes the user go back to the top of the page, which is where the ads are located.

Summary: The Net Impact of the New Google SERP Changes

Even though Google's stated goal of the change is to improve usability (which I believe to be true), we should ask ourselves what other motivations they might have, and why Google is making the change to the SERP layout right now? After all, the previous SERP layout was in place for many years. 

I believe that the decision to make Product listing ads even more prominent right before the holiday shopping season is no coincidence, particularly after a disapointing Q3 2012 earnings report. If you’re an online retailer, I believe that the new Google search page changes make paid search, especially the Product Listing Ads, even harder to ignore. What are your thoughts about the timing and impact of the new SERP changes? Write up your thoughts in the comments below!

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Victor Pan
Nov 07, 2012

I'm very interested in seeing heat map studies along with usability tests on how local, image, and shopping searches will get impacted based on the toolbar shift.And of course, how ads now perform!

Larry Kim
Nov 07, 2012

when you use the menu options like, like "more" and "search tools", drop-down menus appear directly over the ads!

Nov 07, 2012

It's obvious that white space isn't going to be there for long, and with the amount of white space now on the right-hand side it's extremely clear what Google intends to fill it with.

Larry Kim
Nov 07, 2012

yes that would fit the pattern. For example, when google rolled out "keyword not provided", they started out with around single digit percentages of searches impacted, which later grew to +50%. Similarly, i would imagine that more changes are coming here, too.

Mark Lee
Nov 08, 2012

I am very much interested to see this changes.

LanaJoseph@Multilingual SEO
Nov 08, 2012

Google always try to cut off sites that get free rankings on their page and it's not fair though.

Larry Kim
Nov 08, 2012

thanks for your comment. I don't think google owes anyone free rankings.

Nov 08, 2012

Really this is not good news for SEO Employee..I am thnking that SEO is going this Market.

Paul Saunders
Nov 08, 2012

Bring it on I say! I am seeing a huge increase in my Product Listings CTR recently and am placing huge focus on optimizing my feed to gain even further leverage ... for my niche I am getting on average 50% exposure from the average 4 product images that are shown.

I have been experimenting with maximizing all avail Adwords extensions - location,product listings,site extensions etc plus the product listing images .. and in some instances, above the fold I can achieve 70% + probability that one of my links will the one clicked ie with other advertisers and mine combined the total possible links above the fold might be say 16 and I have at least 9 .. quite easy to achieve

I'd be very interested to see a post on usability behavior and probability of clicking, on these now much more prominent and larger product images.. they are so drawing to the eye. I'm lucky I am in Australia and I can see so much opportunity to jump on product listings immediately .. I think most people view it as complicated software but it is relatively easy to study and implement especially if you use someone like

And the CPC is soooo cheap for images at the moment compared to your equivalent text ad CPC in my experience anyway. It has mad me become highly focused on product descriptions too ... still experimenting but it's my fav hot topic right now.

Thanks for another grt post!

Nov 09, 2012

The new search results page interface is simple and user friendly  but i think google has made changes only to provide more room for paid ads.

Nov 10, 2012

I don't think this is just a coincindence with the shopping season. With Christmas fast approaching, Google expects all those ads coming and what better way to please those advertisers than to give them better space.  

Nov 27, 2012

This is precisely the reason why I use an ad blocker --  a sham because I also make $$ from adsense yikes! So to ward off karma, I whitelist favorite sites. I'm not really buying the usability argument, although gotta say the whitespace is good especially with ABP installed. I'd prefer the left hand nav.

Mr Marketology
Mar 01, 2013

I find the new layout useful in many cases.  It provides a glace view for many different area such as shopping, maps, etc.

Mar 14, 2013

Hello, is there any change in google layout? It seems to me as if the font was different.

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