Unpacking The Google Ads Layout Change

Recently Google made an unexpected change to how they’re laying out the Google Ads results in search. Instead of the old “3 ads at the top” and then a list of ads in the sidebar, they’ve done away with the sidebar entirely for what looks like most searches, and instead, are showing 4 ads at the top of the results page.

As an agency that does a lot of Google Ads as well as other forms of online marketing, we were naturally interested in what the implications may be. It’s too soon to know yet what it will be, but we will be keeping an eye on things in order to try and find answers to the following questions:

  • Will people scroll more to look for organic results?
  • Will organic visitors decrease?
  • Are organic listings worth less now?
  • Are My Business listings more important now?
  • Will costs for top listings in Google Ads search advertising increase?

We take a look at the possible implications of the latest change to the layout of Google’s results, both paid and organic.

More Scrolling To Reach Organic Results

Although scrolling is now a commonly accepted practice online, it’s still a type of work, and people don’t like to work at finding things. The more effort that a user has to put in to obtain a result, the less likely they are to go to the trouble of doing so.

With the new search engine results layout from Google, people are going to have to put in some work (minor work of course, but the average user doesn’t think of it like that), to get to the natural organic results.

It’s possible that a portion of them (at least) are going to give up, and just click on an ad.

In the past, if I searched for a company name, the link to their website would appear on the page, below the ads, as an unpaid organic listing. Now, with the increased ad space, the local results, image and video results, it’s nowhere to be seen, and I need to start scrolling down in the hope of finding it.

Google Ads Ads 4 On Top
This is what the search results page looks like up to the fold.

For many years, the fold (the point of the screen below which you have to scroll to see more) has been a crucial cut-off point. Although scrolling has become a natural action, it’s still an action that has to be taken, and the less action required on the part of the user, the happier they are.

Decreased Organic Visitors

New Google Ads Layout
The full first page. everything in the blue block is below the fold.

With the addition of an extra paid result at the top of Google, all of the organic results are now below the fold. This seems likely to reduce the chance of a user clicking on the organic result.

Scrolling down, the next thing I see are the “Local 3-Pack” results, and only after getting through those, do I see the first natural, organic result.

We’re going to be keeping an eye on this by monitoring organic visitors for clients whose rankings remain constant, and see if we can pick up a decrease in organic traffic.

Decreased Value Of Organic Rankings

In the same vein as the previous question, this move could be seen as one toward reducing the importance of an organic ranking. Since organic results have moved even further down the page, it may become less likely that people will use them as much.

Organic rankings have traditionally been much more valuable, and more credible, than paid ones, and in the past, 6-8 times as many people would click on an organic listing in comparison to paid listings.

A reduction in organic traffic will certainly be noticed by web site owners, and chances are, they’ll turn to their SEO providers for explanations.

The much awaited Penguin Update is still no closer, so a sudden drop in organic traffic could well be down to this change, if it happens.


Local Business Listing

Make sure your Google My Business account is up to date.

Increased Importance Of Business Listings

With this change, it has become more important than ever before to ensure that you have an accurate and up to date My Business listing with Google. Your competitors might have bigger budgets for Google Ads, and could be outbidding you even on your own brand name.

If that’s the case, your next best option is to be in the local 3-pack of business listings, (recently reduced from 7). This 3-pack of local listings has become very important real estate in the search engine results pages, and it’s still free from Google, so it’s essential to make sure yours is right.

Higher Costs For Paid Results

Google is, at the end of the day, a business, and it’s the business of a business to make money. That means that it’s very likely that they determined that this change would have a positive impact on their bottom line.

With fewer advertising positions on the page, companies who were bidding enough to have their ads display comfortably in the sidebar of the first page of search engine results will now have to be prepared to bid higher in order to stay on the first page.

With the emphasis now on the first four positions, cost per clicks are likely to increase as companies bid for more exposure. We’ll be keeping an eye on average CPC’s over the next few months, to see if we can determine the extent of the impact.