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Google’s 2016 SERP makeover.

In dramatic move last month, Google decided to scrap their all search ads appearing on the right panel for desktop queries and increase the maximum number of top ads (appearing above the organic results) from 3 to 4 for “highly commercial queries”.

Where advertisers previously had 11 positions to place their ads, the recent change has reduced this to a maximum of 7 positions, with 3-4 top ads above and 3 ads below the organic search results.



In their official statement on the change, Google said “We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. We’ll continue to make tweaks, but 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.”

[Note that “highly commercial queries” includes queries like “Sydney Attorneys” or “Car Insurance”.]

Key takeaways and advice for your PPC & SEO campaigns:

  1. According to various test cases, cost per clicks are running a little higher since the February change, but nothing too dramatic. Note that right side ads typically only accounted for 7-15% of clicks prior to the change.
  2.    It would be wise to increase bids for high value keywords – to counter the effects of increased competition – but reduce it for lukewarm keywords, where performance cannot be easily defined.
  3.    We suspect that CTRs for 4th position ads will increase while CTRs for bottom ads will decrease. Both will have an effect on quality score, so it’s worth weighing up the total cost vs value of lesser important keywords.  
  4.    As organic (SEO) listings now have less visibility for commercial queries, as a result of being pushed below the fold in some cases, this places greater emphasis on ranking within the top 1-3 positions and enhancing your search snippets –  using impactful titles, descriptions, and URLS as well as using appropriate rich snippets.  
  5.    The decrease in organic exposure further emphasises the need to take full advantage of local and image search as well as optimising for the knowledge graph to maximise your organic exposure.
  6. Product Listing Ads (PLAs) are also opportunity for advertisers to maintain visibility, as these will continue to display on the right rail (as will knowledge graph ads).


Further Reading:


About Steph Von der Heyde

Our resident wordsmith’s love of digital lured her over from advertising to the online space, where she fell in love with content marketing. Since coming to the online world Steph has made her mark on all outgoing CleverClicks copy and is passionate about using words to build brands. Her obsession with the writing is rivaled only by her love of trail running, yoga and green juice. When she’s not submerged in content strategy you’ll find Steph in Downward Dog.

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