Google changes of Feb 2016 have changed how we should compete

Are the Google changes to ad placements the “adpocolypse”* some feared?

In late February 2016, Google made the decision to kill off their right side pay per click (PPC) ads, which left many wondering how this would impact the performance of advertising with Google via Search Engine Marketing (SEM). To date the impact has not been extreme for the big players, but we are seeing that it might be affecting the small business owner more than many realise.

So what happened?

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The change saw the total number of ads that can appear in a desktop Google search reduced from eleven to seven, with a maximum of four ads at the top (see example image) and three at the bottom of the free, organic results.  This meant the first FREE ad was now coming after four PAID ad positions. Moving it down one spot probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. But what if you knew that fourth spot used to be free and it captured as much traffic as the last 3 positions on the search page combined? Not only that, your competitor can now pay to capture this traffic and take it away from you; a loss in real terms of 16.4% to make it back.

Let’s work through how this changes things…

Thanks to the great work by the team at we can see the changes in action. Traditionally the list of results was something was as per the table below.

Table of Google clicks

The Percentage of “clicks” earned by the search ranking achieved on a search result page.

What is important here is the 4th position used to be FREE if you could optimise your website and content for the user search. This position resulted in 8.7% of traffic. Now that traffic belongs to Google to SELL to the highest bidder, quite likely your competitor. See the image below where the first ad for help with Google is from Bing, evenGoogle struggles with a competitor being the top bidder for advertising on Google!

Even Bing competes with Google

How ironic if you are Google!

This is even more important on mobile

Astute readers will have noted that on mobile even more traffic goes to the first few results. This is because on a smaller screen the organic search results are pushed even further down the page than ever before. On mobile we already see in many search categories, that only paid listings are visible above the fold. Not a bad trick if you are Google, as they own the majority of the mobile advertising market place. Well played Google.

So what can we take from this?

Small business owners up against a big brand have to fight harder and smarter. Big brands dominate the first three results due to familiarity with users who are in a rush and scanning for the first result that might solve their problem.

Smart marketers need to understand, monitor and test the impact of these changes to efficiently keep getting seen by their customers on Google and other online advertising platforms. As the difficulty and/or cost of one platform goes up, we all start to explore other avenues. In truth we should be doing this anyway.

Keep exploring and experimenting with your advertising spend and content marketing online. Think hard about how you pay to play in this new layout, where playing for free is getting more difficult. The big advertising platforms have to get bigger to meet shareholders’ demands, try to make sure it isn’t any more of your hard earned than it needs to be! And if in doubt seek expert help.

Learn more about search engine optimization and digital marketing by reading our other posts below…

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Mark Jones is Principal of Your Digital Solution, a Brisbane-based digital strategy agency. Mark contributes to various media outlets as a contributor on business strategy, marketing and technology. This article first appeared in the following group of newspapers in Mark’s weekly column:
Daily Mercury – Mackay, The Morning Bulletin – Rockhampton, The Observer – Gladstone, NewsMail – Bundaberg, Fraser Coast Chronicle, The Gympie Times, Sunshine Coast Daily, The Queensland Times, Warwick Daily News, The Northern Star – Northern Rivers, Daily Examiner – NSW North Coast, The Chronicle – Toowoomba.

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