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.

Digital Marketing: It’s Not About You

Your prospects don’t care about you. They don’t care about what you do. What they care about is what you can do for them.

It feels appropriate to kick off this new column with that cold, hard truth because it’s how I start just about every presentation I give these days. The ideas captured in that assertion are the foundation for just about everything we’ll cover in this column: websites, content marketing and digital marketing.

digital guyYour prospects don’t care about you. They don’t care about what you do. What they care about is what you can do for them.

It feels appropriate to kick off this new column with that cold, hard truth because it’s how I start just about every presentation I give these days. The ideas captured in that assertion are the foundation for just about everything we’ll cover in this column: websites, content marketing and digital marketing.

The key notion here is that your marketing can’t be about you. This, of course, is no revelation. It’s been a basic tenet of marketing since marketing’s existence. Think of all the times you’ve been advised to talk about “benefits, not features” or to focus on your prospects’ pain points.

With the persistent encouragement to apply these techniques, it’s shocking how many corporate websites take exactly the opposite approach — it’s all about them and their products and why they are better than the rest. Remarkable, isn’t it, how every company is above average?

If you’re feeling brave, take a look at your own website right now. Does the me/we/our count outnumber the use of you/your? Is the first item on your main menu “About Us?” Does your home page copy talk about your decades of experience? If you said yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem.

You’re in luck, though. Solving these kinds of problems is exactly what we’ll devote this column to, along with:

  • Big picture strategy discussions
  • Tool recommendations
  • Implementation ideas for the Web, email marketing and social media
  • Integration recommendations for specific departments, including sales, customer service and product teams

Let’s get back to that home page of yours. In addition to checking whether the focus is on you or your customers, check if you’re committing any of the following deadly sins — we’ll lay them out here and dive into addressing them over the next few months.

Saying Too Much

One of the most common situations we find ourselves in when developing a new site is mediating between stakeholders in different parts of the company. They all believe their work is too important not to be featured on the home page. Of course, emphasizing everything means nothing stands out. You’ll be better served by editing ruthlessly and testing content to see what really performs best and deserves to be on your home page.

Saying Too Little

Currently there is a website trend of heavy imagery use paired with sparse copy. I’m sure the argument in favor of this practice centers on the emotional value of a powerful image packing the punch of a thousand words. But aside from looking like every other website out there, don’t you want to convey at least some basic sense of what you do and whom you can help? Don’t get me wrong — emotions matter in buying decisions. But it’s not all that matters.

Speaking to Everyone

Considering the topic of whom you can help, “everyone” is not a good answer. Even if your offerings really can help everyone, it would be foolish to believe you can stake out that territory successfully on a website home page. You need to pick your most important audience segments and speak to them. Yes, someone is likely to feel left out. The increased effectiveness you’ll have in your best segments, however, will more than compensate for losing out on a small number of less-than-ideal clients.

Making no Requests

Your website visitors will be more likely to take action if you suggest they do so. Having well-crafted offers and prominently featured calls to action are key to your website’s success. Now, that doesn’t mean asking for a credit card number after offering a prospect a small blurb of basic information. It might simply mean suggesting that they click through to another page that helps them get to know you better.

I look forward to getting to know you better over the coming months. Please reach out to let me know what digital marketing questions you’d like to see answered and I’ll include them in an upcoming column.