New Google SERP Changes Make Ads More Prominent than Ever, Cannibalize Organic Search 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 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 devices) which were so huge they barely fit. The ads now appear more prominently, closer to the left side of the page.
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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