Anyone who’s been involved in search for any length of time knows that Google is always testing and tweaking results.
Typically, in desktop search results Google will display up to three ads in the premium positions at the top of the page and eight to 10 ads down the right-hand side, as shown below.
Reports have been surfacing recently of Google testing changes to the number of advertisements it displays in desktop results with four ads being shown across the top of the page, but none down the right-hand side. Below is an example screenshot showing this.
Why should you care?
At present Google is simply testing alternative ad layouts and there’s no guarantee they’ll switch to this. But if they do, then the impact is going to be huge and could cost you dearly from both a PPC and SEO perspective.
With just four ads on a page and none down the side, the amount of available ad inventory for advertisers will drop significantly. As a result, the only way for advertisers to appear in the search results will be to ramp up PPC bids high enough to secure one of the four spots available. In other words, it will cost more.
Google AdWords is effectively an auction and, like any auction, prices can skyrocket when supply is low and demand high (as anyone who’s tried buying a house in Auckland recently will know).
Presumably Google is currently testing to see if the lost ad revenue they get from dropping the ads in the right rail is more than compensated for by increased bids for the top four positions.
Advertisers will not be the only casualties should Google roll this out. It’s also bad news from an SEO perspective.
Organic search results have been coming under increasing pressure with Google progressively adding in things like maps, local search results, answer boxes and the like — all of which push organic search results further down the page. An increase in the number of ads at the top of the page will push them even further down and out of sight below the fold.
This will make the top organic search positions that remain visible above the fold increasingly valuable and SEO competition for a top three position in organic search results will get even tougher.
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Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).