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. As always, though, 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).

search-engine-76519_640 googleChanges 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.

Must Love Dogs, and Other Content Marketing Advice

Content Marketing is a lot like dating. If you create your dating profile based on what you think potential life mates might be interested in, but don’t accurately reflect who you really are, then your first date will probably be a short one.

Content Marketing is a lot like dating.

If you create your dating profile based on what you think potential life mates might be interested in, but don’t accurately reflect who you really are, then your first date will probably be a short one.

After all, if you’re an active sports enthusiast who loves dogs and isn’t afraid to speak your mind, then why would you pretend to be otherwise? Do you think that nobody will wink at you online if you’re honest about yourself? Do you think “tricking” someone into asking you out has the possibility of turning into a long term relationship?

Many businesses continue to get poor results for their content marketing efforts because they’re attempting to be something that they’re not. When Google’s algorithm discovers that your content has a lot of bounces because it does NOT really answer a Google inquiry on a topic, your search result gets moved to the back of the pack. There’s no “gaming” the system by stuffing keywords in your meta tag—Google is simply trying to figure out what a page is all about so they can serve up an authentic answer to the search inquiry.

I keep going back to the story about Marcus Sheridan, the pool company owner who started writing a blog based on answering their customers’ questions. As a result, his pool company is thriving and his website gets more traffic than any other pool company site in the world—and Marcus started an online consulting business to help other companies achieve similar results.

The secret to his success? Answering every single question a consumer could possibly have about buying a fiberglass pool in a frank and personable way. Now when a consumer asks Google a question about fiberglass pools, Marcus’ site is at the top of the organic search results because web traffic clicks and time spent on his site tell Google that his answers are the most “helpful” and relevant to the question being asked. Marcus gets an “A” for Content Marketing.

But why do most businesses still get an “F” for their attempts??

Primarily because they’re afraid: Afraid to answer questions honestly out of fear that it might make their product or service look bad; Afraid that they won’t look like they know what they’re talking about; Afraid that the competition will read their content and “steal” their answers or ideas; Afraid that someone will read their content then shop elsewhere to find the same solution… Only cheaper.

But Marcus wasn’t afraid. He had deep experience in the pool business, and was happy to share it with anyone who asked. He knew that by demonstrating his knowledge he would attract more inquiries, interest and referrals, because at the end of the day, we all love to do business with people who know what they’re talking about—people who give us confidence because we know we’ve made the right decision by purchasing from an expert.

I recently read a great quote from Phil Darby—a pioneer in new branding—who said, “You won’t build relationships by talking about yourself all the time.”

You couldn’t be more right, Phil, and just like in dating, no one wants to sit with someone who drones on and on about themselves.

Great content adds value to a topic; brings a fresh perspective to an issue, or provides advice and counsel on how to solve a problem—all without the chest pounding.

And, if you continuously post content to your site and distribute through other social media channels, that will help with SEO efforts because according to Searchmetrics, 7 out of 10 of the most important factors in SEO ranking now come from social media. Whether you post it on LinkedIn, Google+, tweet about it, or link to a Facebook post, all these efforts help optimize your search results.

Take a fresh look at your content—is it authentic? Does it truly help the reader gain new knowledge or insight on a topic? Or is it just the lipstick on your pig?

Trickery Is Not a Marketing Strategy

Despite what some people may think, I was not born yesterday. But lately I feel like I’ve been duped by intentionally deceptive marketing practices everywhere I turn. When legitimate companies deliberately use misleading marketing tactics to try and entice you to respond, I wonder who, exactly, thought this was a good idea?

Despite what some people may think, I was not born yesterday. But lately I feel like I’ve been duped by intentionally deceptive marketing practices everywhere I turn.

I’m far from being a novice when reading emails (so sorry if you really were mugged while travelling in Nigeria), answering the phone (no, I don’t want to invest in the new drug that cures cancer), or opening my door to strangers (based on the way you’re dressed, I sincerely doubt you’re collecting for the San Francisco Opera).

But when legitimate companies deliberately use misleading marketing tactics to try and entice you to respond, I wonder who, exactly, thought this was a good idea?

Let’s start with …

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
If you’ve read anything at all about how the Web works, you already know that for your target audience to find your web site, it needs to be optimized for Google.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a hotly debated topic because Google changes its algorithm regularly and it’s a closely guarded secret. But since Google’s priority is to serve their users and their expertise is to assign relevancy to web pages, it makes perfect sense that the brain collective at Google will eventually figure out that you may be trying to “game” the system when you place words on your site (or in your meta tags) that really have nothing to do with your products or services.

If you’ve optimized your site for Google’s Web crawlers (by including words that are truly relevant to your business), then the logical next step might be an SEM effort—because if you can’t get to the top of organic search results, then why not pay to ensure top billing?

The problem is that many brands are so desperate to wave their arms in front of a Google searcher and “throw their hat in the ring” that they’re choosing SEM words based on potential volume of searchers who will be exposed to their brand message. As a result, they are investing in order to be seen, paying to get clicks, but ultimately losing because they’re getting lots of bounces when searcher discovers the company can’t deliver the information/product/service they’re seeking.

For many business-to-business companies, the problem is not so much trickery, but a lack of alignment between a set of paid search terms and the landing page to which each SEM result is linked. I covered this problem in my recent webinar on website personalization, so you can learn more by listening on demand.

Misrepresentation in Email
Our agency has a GSA contract—meaning we have been approved by the Federal Government to bid on RFPs for government work. Recently, we were required to update our contact information in the SAM (System for Award Management) database. Upon completion, (or so we thought) I received an email from an individual who appeared to work for the federal government. They noted that our update was not complete, but instead advised that we needed to fill out an attached form.

The PDF, labeled “US Federal SAM Worksheet New,” certainly looked official enough, and it came from someone who called themselves a “Case Manager” at US Federal Contractor Registration.

But it wasn’t until we had completed and returned the form, and had several additional email exchanges, that we finally figures out that we were not corresponding with an official of the US Government, but instead with an outside consulting firm who would be charging us for their “help.”

Needless to say, I was aghast.

I’ve now gone back and carefully read and reread our email exchanges, trying to discover how I was so easily duped and how I allowed confidential information to be provided to this outside entity. And I can honestly tell you, it was deceptive from their first contact with us.

If you’re running a legitimate business, you shouldn’t have to resort to either SEM or email “trickery” to attract customers. If you do, you’re no better than those Nigerian email scams.