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“Google Did What?” – Expert Opinion and Advice on Google’s Dramatic Search Change

Unless you’ve been living under a rock without a Wi-Fi connection, you’ve probably heard about Google’s search engine change. Many people have indeed heard about it, but did not really know what to make of it. And that’s completely fine, because I’m here for the rescue! This FAQ post is a helpful guide to learning everything you need to know about the rationale of Google’s gigantic move, alongside useful tips on adapting your online ways in order to survive it.

Google Did What Exactly?

Google has recently changed its search engine results by removing all right hand side advertisements. Until now, Google has shown up to 11 ads; up to 3 on the top of organic results and 8 more on the right hand side. Now, Google has added a 4th ad to the top of the page while removing side ads entirely. Perhaps you’re reading this and wondering if that’s even that big of a deal. I assure you, it is, and Google search, as we marketers and users know it, will never be the same again.

Why Did Google Make this Change?

The main incentive for this change by Google is to maximize revenue. In other words, it’s all about the money. Google knows exactly how many clicks it receives on the top ads and on the right hand side ads. They figure that adding an extra slot on top (and above the fold), will more than make up for the lost revenue from the side ads.

A basic lesson in economics: when supply of a certain item decreases and demand stays consistent, prices will always rise. In our case, what was once a “supply” of 11 ad spaces above the fold has now been reduced to only four ad spaces. Hence, even if the amount of advertisers stays the same, the price of every click is expected to rise.

One must not forget the major changes Google has made over past few years via their Penguin and Panda algorithm updates. The initial purpose was to try and eliminate “Black Hat” SEO tactics to climb to the top of the search results. In addition, this also helped increase Google’s revenue, as business owners who had previously implemented “black hat” strategies were now forced to turn to PPC in order to get to the top of the search rankings.

Another reason for Google’s shift to this format is that this is more or less that format that currently exists on mobile devices. Already in Q2 of 2015, Google announced that more searches were being performed on mobile than desktop devices and that the trend will only become more pronounced as time goes on. It is my belief that Google is sending a message that from this point onward, mobile becomes the default and not vice versa.

Finally, major changes in the online marketing space cannot be analyzed without addressing the clash of the titans, a.k.a Google vs. Facebook. Clearly, the digital advertising industry has changed greatly over the last 12 years. Back in the day in 2004, when Social Media and Big Data sounded like Sci-Fi characters, Google dominated the market. Then, lo and behold, Facebook exploded and the digital advertising landscape, as well as our lives, changed for good. Facebook has become an enormous internet company in its own right, competing with Google for marketing budgets, employees, and the time of online users.

Today, Facebook is continually eating into Google’s once-dominant market share in the online advertising industry. This elephant in the room sheds light on Google’s search engine change. After all, one of the main advantages Facebook has over Google, especially in the eCommerce category, is that its ads are extremely visual. With 4 ad spots now available, Google may make shopping campaigns a permanent fixture along with 3 other results. In addition, Google could decide to use the vacated space on the right hand side exclusively for shopping campaigns or other visual promoted content it rolls out in the future. Such visual and interactive revisions could be part of Google’s strategy to win over online advertisers, fighting off Facebook.

Who Would be Affected / Should I be Worried?

One of the main victims of this change will be small businesses with smaller PPC budgets. These businesses, who were okay to bid towards the 5th or 6th place ad slots in exchange for cheaper clicks, will now be squeezed out at the expense of businesses with larger budgets. These small businesses will need to adapt by making their searches very “local,” which includes both a tight radius on location targeting as well as targeting localized search terms. Lastly, this might result in many small businesses turning to Facebook as their platform of choice for advertising (perhaps utilizing Facebook’s new “local awareness” objective).

An additional segment that might be significantly hurt by this change is affiliate marketers and reseller sites. The margins for these business models are already quite small and a moderate increase in CPC may make these businesses unprofitable in their Google PPC endeavors.

Another outcome that Google’s change will have has to do with SEO. Adding a 4th ad result on the top of the page will push even more of the organic search results “below the fold.” While this is undoubtedly a negative for those with good SEO rankings, it certainly does not mean that SEO is no longer important. The reason for this is that, as always, there are many people who skip the ads and go straight to the organic results. Also, if clicks via PPC ads become more expensive, each organic click becomes that much more valuable. A business with good SEO rankings will therefore have a huge advantage over a business that relies exclusively on PPC.

What is Next?

The change from Google is still its infancy and this may be just the first of many new Google search changes. It’s important that whoever is running your online advertising is aware of this changing landscape of advertising.

How Will Google Look Like in the Future?

Thinking about what Google has in store for us, we decided to let our imagination roam free and create this visualization of how Google’s search engine will possibly look like in the future. Our guess is that eventually, Google will make the transition from SERP (Search Engine Results Page) to SERF (Search Engine Results Feed):




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