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At 11:30am today (Friday, February 19th), it was made apparent to Epiphany that Google would be making several changes to the way it displays adverts on its search engine results pages (SERPs).

These are being gradually rolled out over the day and will be in effect internationally by this evening in the US (around midnight UK time).

No official announcements have yet been made by Google.

Here is a summary of the main changes that we are aware of, or have discovered in the immediate term as a response to the information:

  • Up to four ads will now be displayed at top of search results.
  • Google estimates around 3% of all queries will now show four ads at the top of search results. A Google spokesperson told The SEM Post; "this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers."
  • Right-hand text ads will be removed for all queries.
  • Ads will be displayed at the bottom of the page more often – up to three ads may be displayed at the bottom of SERPs.
  • Product listing ads (PLAs), image, news and map listings and Knowledge Graph will be unaffected.
  • Google does not anticipate any impact on organic traffic in total. However, we’re monitoring the impact this will have on the number of “blue link” organic listings, and their click-through rates.
  • The changes currently affect desktop and tablet platforms only; mobile is still being tested for four top ads.
  • Google will be moving away from six site links to two, but these two will be extended as part of this launch.
  • We have not received any information as to the use of right-hand space on SERPs, but we are already in the process of analysing this.

Factors that we are monitoring:

  • Over the weekend, we anticipate (in a worst-case scenario) that cost-per-click (CPC) for a number of terms will increase, as advertisers may act on concerns over the potential loss of weekend volume and conversions. This may push certain ads into a higher position to combat any loss (providing they are aware of the change), so this may take place over the next few days.
  • We anticipate increased traffic for clients in positions 1-3 already. We’re monitoring what happens to those currently in position 4; we expect those in positions 5 and below could potentially lose traffic.
  • We believe that when four ads are displayed in SERPs, organic results might see a reduction in traffic, depending on whether or not they increase the number of listings, or if there is a Knowledge Graph, image, news or map listings or PLA listings.
  • We also suspect that those on laptops, or with lower screen resolutions, will be more likely to click on paid ads, as organic listings will be even further down the page.
  • There may be an increased emphasis on advert extensions, due to advertisers trying to increase the size of their ads.
  • This may also lead to an increase in the importance of local listings and expanded answer boxes, due to the limited space available.
  • We anticipate that Google Shopping will see an increase in traffic, due to the smaller amount of competition in the right-hand space of results.
  • There will be more fluctuation in paid search due to advertisers vying for a smaller number of premium places - previously eight paid ads were displayed above the fold, and this has now been halved.
    • This may lead to more work on bid management, as we will need to review changes more frequently and adjust bids to accommodate competition.
  • Advertisers should monitor the impact that this has on on-site conversion rates

  • Review extensions could become much more important in organic results and mark-up techniques could become a more critical focus of organic search strategies.

*Article Update: Full roll-out was completed on the night of Monday 22nd.

If you have any questions about these changes please get in touch.