The New Google SERP: 3 Changes & 3 Things That Haven't Changed…Yet


It’s never a slow week in SEM. Last week, the Wordstream office was enjoying a short work week, unseasonably pleasant Boston weather, and the birthday of our beloved Erin Sagin. And while we were all enjoying our peaceful weeks, Google decided to start rolling out the biggest change to the SERP we’ve seen in years by removing the PPC ads along the right side of the SERP.

Moz first noticed the changes early on Thursday (Feb 18) morning and by Friday afternoon, the industry was ablaze with theory and speculation as to how this would change the paid search ecosystem.

In light of these changes and the rampant speculation, let’s take an early look at what advertisers have seen on the SERP in the days following this change.

What has changed?

The Surprise Winner of the SERP Change: Position 3.

Many were quick to say that advertisers in position 4 would be the biggest winners of this change. It’s true that position 4 saw more paid clicks and a 15% increase in CTR. However, the biggest winner of this change isn’t advertisers in position 4. The biggest winner is advertisers in position 3. In our data set, position 3’s CTR doubled on Thursday when this changed occurred and the higher CTR has stayed consistent over the weekend.

surprise winner position 3

The Losers: Positions 5 -11.

Those advertisers in the lowest positions were the biggest losers of this SERP shuffle. Of course, the biggest losers are those in positions 8-11 which now find themselves evicted from the SERP. But positions 5-7 also lost considerable reach in terms of both impression share and total share of all paid clicks from the SERP:

share of all clicks positions 5-7

PPC Ads in positions 5, 6, and 7 are seeing less reach on the SERP after the changes on Feb 18th

Notable Mention: Shopping Campaigns.

Shopping campaigns have a unique advantage on the new SERP layout. Product listing ads and the knowledge panel are the only listings that will appear in on the right, alongside the top four paid search ads. Early results suggest that the advantage is helping the PLAs attract a slightly higher CTR as well as a larger share of the paid clicks from the SERP.

lift in shopping campaign ctr

share of clicks on shopping campaigns

Product Listing Ads made small gains in CTR and paid reach on the SERP in the past few days.

What hasn’t changed?

This change isn’t universal – at least for now.

If you’re still seeing ads along the right side bar, you’re not alone. Search Engine Land’s Ginny Marvin was among the many still seeing ads along the right of the SERP on Monday afternoon.

still seeing sidebar ads

Our friends at Moz have been tracking the rollout and although results with 4 ads have become considerably more commonplace since 2/18, they still make up a minority of the search results – just under 20% at the moment.

top blocks with four ads

So not all searches are currently affected and not all advertisers will notice any changes in their performance, for now.

There Isn’t Less Paid Search Traffic Because of the SERP Change

Many industry experts are concerned that fewer ads on the SERP above the fold would translate to fewer ad clicks. Some have even cited that they have seen fewer clicks and impressions in their accounts since the rollout on February 18. And while we’ve also seen fewer impressions in clicks in our accounts, I strongly believe the decline is not a result of the SERP changes, but is in line with the typical decline in search volume that we see over the weekends.

In fact, if anything, our accounts saw slightly more clicks this past weekend that they’ve seen in past weeks.

search inventory changes on serp

PPC ads are still attracting the same amount of clicks

Search CPCs haven’t changed. At least not yet.

Some pundits have suggested that the limited visibility of ads in positions 5 – 7 and removing positions 8+ from the SERP would increase competition for the top positions on the SERP, driving up CPCs. Others have suggested that the increased number of ads in the top positions would increase ad inventory and that increase in inventory would drive down the costs per click.

At the moment, there’s no change in search CPCs as a result of the SERP changes from last week. Again, some have seen CPCs decline, but that’s more than likely due to less competition in the AdWords auction on the weekends due to advertisers who use dayparting to schedule their PPC ads.

CPC Changes on SERP

Paid search ads haven’t seen a noticeable change in cost per click.

While Google’s new SERP could lay ground for more new exciting changes in our industry, it’s unlikely to cause an extreme change to our ads’ CPC or PPC ad inventory overnight. Certainly, some advertisers will benefit from these changes and others will not. The best move for advertisers is to not panic and focus on making changes in their account if they see their performance begin to shift.

Data sources:

Data is based on a sample of 2,367 accounts (Wordstream clients) in all verticals based in the US who were advertising on the Google search network in February 2016. All currency values are posted in USD.

About the author:

Mark is a Data Scientist at WordStream with a background in SEM, SEO, and Statistical Modeling. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google +.




Feb 24, 2016

Moz updated their article on 23rd Feb. The number of searches with 4 top ads have increased to 36%.

Arsaln A
Feb 25, 2016

its a useful news for eCommerce world.

Feb 28, 2016

"if anything, our accounts saw slightly more clicks this past weekend that they’ve seen in past weeks."

Assuming Google made the change because their trials showed it made financial sense (for Google), are they after more clicks to bill, or higher CPCs, or both?


As for position 3 doing better than position 4, no surprise there. Over the time this data covers, 80% of position 4 ads were at the bottom of the organic results. So the 15% increase in position 4 CTR is actually quite amazing!

On the other hand, will it continue? Users are used to 3 ad positions so maybe some of them unconsciously go to position 4 for 'real' organic results.

3 days is a very short timescale. It would be great to revisit this with more data and see what is blip and what is permanent change.

Apr 11, 2016

you m,ust work for google timr and time again they sqeeze out the little man to gain big profits just like the pigs they are we suffer and pay and pay and pay to keep up with the demand what a fucking shame

Mar 10, 2016

"Exciting changes"? I just see it as a way for Google to get more money out of people and probably at a higher CPC. I've rarely seen them do anything that's particularly good for mankind with the exception of creating AdWords Editor.

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 10, 2016

So far we haven't seen CPC's rise because of this change.

Mar 10, 2016

Why the Shopping campaigns Ads will continue to be displayed on the right?

Mar 11, 2016

I haven't seen any increase in CPC yet, however I am worried that people might still begin increasing their CPC thinking they have to bid higher to be seen.

What is interesting though, is Google is also toying with making the local map listings, or "my business" listings SEM paid clicks as well. This would mean that to show up in the local places section, the advertiser would have to buy clicks to show up there as well. This would expand the number of adword listings shown on a SERP from 7 to 10 (not including shopping related searches). None of which would be on the right rail.

Patrick O'Doherty
Jun 09, 2016

This was the biggest change to the text ads since AdWords launched fifteen years ago. They declared that they are going for consistent search experience across devices, “mobile-first world”. Google AdWords continues to evolve, and we have to adapt to a more complex and competitive environment. What did you say to your small business clients? My advice is to 1) increase their ad quality scores by writing more relevant ads, and 2) look for more niche/specific keywords to focus on that have less competition. I justify the above a little further in my blog post: :

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