New Google SERP Format: Facts, Fiction and Rumors

google serp changesWith the recent changes to the Google search engine results page (SERP) for desktop and tablets, there are a lot of rumors and false information around the Internet, so we wanted to give automotive aftermarket advertisers some facts, informed opinions and our recommendations for your Google AdWords campaigns selling auto parts & accessories, or motorcycle parts & accessories.

new Google SERP format

Here is a recent Google SERP snapshot showing four text ads at the top, and eight Product Listing Ads (PLAs) on the right side.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that all searches will only display four ads at the top of the SERP and all right side advertising is now gone. That’s not true.

Google is now showing four text ads at the top of the SERP for some search results. When this happens it pushes organic results down one spot. Google is also eliminating right side text ads but not eliminating Google Shopping Product Listing Ads (PLAs) from the right side.

Here’s a run down of some of the facts and rumors on Google’s latest SERP changes:

All right side ads are gone from the Google SERP: FALSE

Text ads are gone, Product Listing Ads will continue to display for searches, either at the top of the page or on the right side. At the right is a screen shot of a search query for a specific engine product. There are eight PLAs on the right along with four text ads at the top of the SERP.

google serp changes

This SERP screenshot shows a highly commercial search query, with four text ads and a Google map. No text ads appear on the right side and there are additional text ads at the bottom.

All Google searches will now only display four text ads at the top of the SERP: FALSE

We can share in part what our Google agency team told us, “…some people might see it on a very small number of highly commercial queries. We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout provides more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.

So, what is a “highly commercial” query? At the left is a screen shot of a search for “Los Angeles injury law firm,” which is definitely a highly commercial query, and which shows four text ads. This also shows organic results on a Google Map since this is a common local search query. Other examples of highly commercial queries might be “car insurance” or, um, “SEO company.”

Most queries for auto parts and accessories are not highly commercial from Google’s perspective so Google Shopping will play a prominent role on the Google SERP (scroll down for more on Google Shopping).

It is important to note, this is Google so as promised they will continue to make tweaks and continue to do testing on search queries, so expect continuous changes in the future.

Paid search click volume is going to drop: mostly FALSE

new google serp change

Here’s a screenshot of a search term for an engine part that shows five PLAs at the top, followed by only two text ads, then organic search results including a YouTube video.

First, if you’re managing keywords to appear in the 5th, 6th or 7th positions and lower you’re probably not getting a high click through rate (CTR) or a decent ROI in the first place. Second, as our friends at WordStream have pointed out, last month, ads on the right side or at the bottom of a Google SERP only produced 15% of the clicks. If your ads are at the top, you’re competing for 85% of the clicks.

Paid search Cost Per Click (CPC) will go up: TRUE and FALSE

If you’re using AdWords best practices to guide your account management and you’re actively managing your paid search campaigns for maximum ROI, you’ll probably not see any increased CPC cost in the near term. It is possible CPC will rise in the long term. You also want to take advantage of Google’s ad extensions including sitelinks, callouts, automated extensions or dynamic structured snippets, to maximize the effectiveness of your text ads.

Breaking news: Google informed us in a conference call Friday, February 26 that so far, they are not seeing any significant change in CPC across the AdWords system.

You’ll also want to pay close attention to your ad position and we can’t emphasize enough how important Quality Score (QS) is. A good QS will boost your position without overpaying for CPC. In fact, a high quality score gets you up to a 50% discount on CPC.

On the other hand, if you’re not actively managing your paid search campaigns or not utilizing long tail keywords, you’ll probably see an increase in your CPC but chances are strong you were not likely having a good ROI before this change took effect, either.

Google paid search is becoming more complex: Sorry DIY advertisers, this is TRUE

Admittedly, successfully advertising on Google AdWords (or Bing Ads) is getting more complex and undergoes constant change. It can be tough as a do-it-yourself DIY advertiser. Google is continually updating requirements and advertising options and online advertising becoming more dependent on big data, thousands of long-tail keywords and analytics. Many times new features or specifications are released before documentation is completely updated, especially on Bing Google’s biggest competitor. It’s not uncommon for an advertiser to have a product data feed for the Google Merchant Center with millions of data rows, especially when it is optimized for vehicle fitment.

If you’re not utilizing best practices, not up-to-date on the latest paid search recommendations or devoting significant time to A/B testing or campaign optimization, you’re probably no seeing the best results from your paid search campaigns. Shameless plug: this is a good reason to talk to a Google Partner digital agency to see about getting maximum ROI from your online marketing investment.

This SERP change came as a big surprise: mostly FALSE

Well, maybe not a big surprise. Google has been testing this SERP format since 2010 and very aggressively in recent months. Really, this format emulates what the Google mobile search experience has been all along and Google expects 90% of their growth in 2016 to come from mobile devices. Connecting the dots, this new SERP format becomes even less of a surprise.

More thoughts on Google Shopping Product Listing Ads (PLAs)

This change to the Google SERP confirms one thing at least: Google Shopping is only going to become more important in the future, which is what we have been telling our clients for over two years. With Google Shopping continuing to grow in importance, it also increases the importance of having good product data, which drives PLAs.

Also note that as of May 16, if a manufacturer has issued a GTIN/UPC code for a SKU, that code must appear in your Google Merchant Center feed or your feed will be disallowed and your PLAs will not appear.

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