On May 20th, our SEO agency software partner BrightEdge released a 7,000-keyword study detailing the impact of the major Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) layout change in February. In case you missed it, Google adjusted the SERPs so that some queries would display 4 ads above the fold, with up to 3 ads at the bottom of the page as well. Additionally, all sidebar ads were permanently removed.
It was initially unclear how this layout change would impact both paid and organic search marketing, thanks to this new study we now have a better idea. Without further ado, let’s jump into the study’s findings.
Prevalence Of 4 Above-The-Fold Ads In SERPs
When Google first announced these changes they stated, “some people might see [the new SERP] on a very small number of commercial queries.” The BrightEdge study found that this new layout is appearing more than Google initially suggested – approximately 23% of all search queries now feature the 4-ad SERP. This means that paid search is more important than ever as approximately 1-in-4 searches will have only ads displayed above the fold.
Additionally, the study found that purchase-intent keywords (such as ‘buy insurance online’) were 6x more likely than discovery-intent keywords (such as ‘what are the best insurance companies’) to display the 4-ad SERP. This is in line with Google’s claim that the new SERP would show up for commercial queries, but it is good to have the data to back it up. The main takeaway from this is that paid search and SEO work best when working together: finding the right blend of discovery-intent and purchase-intent keywords and ensuring your ads and organic listings are on page 1 can make a huge difference. For example, if you are trying to organically rank well for a purchase-intent keyword but you aren’t bidding on the keyword you are leaving a lot of traffic on the table.
Impact Of 4-Ad SERPs On Clickthrough Rate (CTR)
The study then moved on to analyzing the CTR of the top organic positions to see what the impact of the 4-ad SERPs truly is. The study found the following, “Searches with discovery intent have a 69% higher clickthrough rate for the top five organic listings, as compared to the top five organic listings for those searches with purchase-intent.” This further shows the importance of focusing your organic search campaign on discovery-intent keywords as you will likely receive more traffic from the greater CTR than you would for ranking in an identical position for purchase-intent keywords.
When looking at the CTR for the top 5 organic listings they found that the CTR for position 1 for discovery-intent keywords was 102.7% greater as compared to position 1 for purchase-intent keywords. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother trying to rank well for position 1 for purchase-intent keywords as CTR is still about 16%, but a 102.7% increase is not something to take lightly. The trend continues for positions 2-5, though not to the same degree as position 1.
Digital marketing is a constantly shifting landscape, and this is just one of many changes we will likely see from Google this year. Keeping abreast of these sorts of developments and adjusting accordingly can be the difference maker in both your organic and paid campaigns.