Ad Buying

Honey, I Shrank the SERP! Three Strategies for Surviving Google’s Recent Change to Paid Search Results

unnamed-18By: Oliver J. Nelson

Over the weekend Google announced a reduction of ad positions available within the search engine results page (SERP) on desktop devices. Essentially, Google’s recent change eliminates the ads that once appeared to the right of the organic listings and below the Knowledge Graph have been eliminated. Google suggests this makes for a better search experience, but the net impact for advertisers undoubtedly centers on fewer positions up for grabs on page one. With advertiser demand for first page real estate not showing any signs of diminishing we can safely say that average cost-per-clicks (CPCs) will increase as a result last week’s reveal. To keep you from panicking and swearing off digital altogether we’ve put together three strategies to help jumpstart your approach to Google’s new SERP:

Position one isn’t the same for everyone

Google likely implemented this change as a result of lower experienced click-through-rate (CTR) on ads that appear on the right-hand side of search results. Despite fears that ads below the top two positions will experience a similar drop-off in CTR it is worth testing to determine which levels of positioning make the most sense for your brand and your campaign objectives.

Given that CPCs will likely rise, aiming to remain in position one might not be necessary to achieve the kind of returns your campaign needs to generate. Consider backing down and running test-and-learns to determine if a lower position makes sense for your brand.

Remember, too, that you’re not flying completely blind. We’ve had a situation similar to this on mobile devices for some time now. Granted, overall competition is generally lower here than on the desktop platform, it is worth noting that lower positioning on mobile often works quite well for advertisers across many of their search campaigns – and this in an environment where CTR drop-off is even higher than on desktop!

What’s important to remember here is that testing will be everything.

Google desktop isn’t your only option

Several of my clients have experienced great success with campaigns running not only with Bing but with Gemini as well. If you haven’t committed to building out a campaign strategy focused on these two engines, now might be a great time to explore what the opportunities are.

In addition to greater scale than in years past, both engines routinely return far reduced CPCs when compared to Google. This generally translates to more efficient cost-per-action results as well.

While looking to diversify your investment across engines, consider re-evaluating the role of mobile as well. The past few years have seen the mobile search experience continue to improve. Often, advertisers will now experience far more efficient CPCs and CPAs on mobile when compared with desktop performance. It’s important to not get too discouraged with higher bounce rates or lower time-on-site data – even with lower onsite engagement data mobile most often still provides better back-end numbers when compared to desktop.

Don’t forget about SEO

There is valid concern that having four ads at the top of the SERP will push organic listings below the fold. That said, recent research suggests that searchers tend to aggressively scan the SERP from top to bottom and pay more attention to results in the middle of a page than they did back in the early to mid 2000’s.

I recommend ensuring that your site follows all SEO best practices. At a minimum, ensure your site avoids shooting itself in the foot by keeping on-page tactics SEO- friendly. Why sacrifice any potential opportunity to capture free, high-quality organic traffic when paid search traffic will only become more expensive?


The most competent advertisers will realize that the solution to fewer ads in Google’s SERP remains centered on the test-and-learn. Work to evaluate which engines, devices, and positions to target and you’ll likely discover some new opportunities to keep costs down and profits up.