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Google's search results page changes: A summary of 2016 so far 

Google's search results page changes: A summary of 2016 so far 

The end of 2016 is slowly approaching and this year has certainly been a year of change at Google; with the rapid transformation of the search results pages, it can be difficult to keep up.  With one change following the other, measuring their impact on different industries can also be challenging.

That’s why we’ve decided to summarise all major changes this year has brought so far, and analyse how they influence digital marketing in different sectors.

google search results page changes - a summary of 2016 so far

Removal of the right-hand side ads

In February, Google permanently removed right-hand side ads from search results, making competition for ad spaces tight. For highly commercial queries, a fourth ad slot was introduced at the top of the page and more ad space was created at the bottom of the page. Despite initial concerns over bidding wars for the four prime ad locations, our test results have actually shown a slight decrease in CPCs (cost per clicks), or no change at all. Taking a different perspective, this change has actually helped us gain fourth ad slot at the top of the page, which made the ads that would normally appear in position four on the right-hand side more visible to users. This, in turn, led to an increase in traffic.

There has, however, also been a downside to this change; for retailers that used both PLAs (product listing ads) and search ads as part of their strategy, the advertising landscape changed significantly.  PLAs have completely overtaken over the paid search results for retail queries. If a query triggers shopping ads, all text ads are being pushed down the results page or not appearing at all. For our retail clients, therefore, we focused on shopping feed optimisation to get the most of their product listings.

Extended text ads

Being postponed a few times throughout the year, extended ads finally launched in August and are now available to all advertisers. Google initially recommended upgrading all accounts until mid-October but has recently extended the deadline to the end of February 2017; recommending advertisers to run standard ads alongside the extended version and increase ad testing.

Our test results have shown mixed outcomes. Despite strong improvement in click-through rates (CTRs), we have also seen increases in CPCs, in some cases followed by fall in conversion rate. More characters allowed in the headline, however, also enabled us to include longer-tail keywords in ad text which in long term should benefit the accounts by improving quality score.

Price extensions on mobile

Price extensions on mobile launched unexpectedly right before the extended ads. They allow advertisers to significantly increase their advertising space on mobile by completely taking over space above the fold. To showcase the products or services, advertisers can use 25 character header, 25 character description, price, and provide an individual landing page URL for each entry.  Although we would not recommend setting this up for every client, for relevant service providers, however, it has proven to work well in improving mobile CTR and generating conversions.

Fourth text ad slot on mobile

Sometime in August advertisers also started seeing a fourth text ad for highly commercial queries on mobile devices which pushed the organic results further down. This change has been the least talked about in the industry despite its effect being quite significant. From our internal testing, we have seen mobile CTR increasing on average by 100% between August and September for our lead gen clients. Although having more ad space on mobile has been beneficial, the new extended ads do not to allow us to optimise the ad copy for mobile devices which was possible with the old format. With increased focus on mobile performance and bid adjustments now enabled for all devices, we believe that it is time to rethink the advertising strategy for mobile and target each device separately to maximise performance.

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