‘Not feeling good, I was generating lots of leads by showing ads in the sidebar at low cost, now my CPA will increase and I will have to fight with the big companies’
‘This really hurts thoses of us that are good with SEO. I have been in business for two years and have a zero dollar advertising budget. Business has been great until the recent change, now the phone hardly rings.’
‘I now appear ‘below the fold’ it makes a huge difference’
‘Now they expect small business like mine to come up with thousands of dollars each month to compete with the big boys’
So what does this actually mean for SEO?
As you can see in the image at the top of this post, the organic results are not even visible at first glance of the SERP. The extra ad at the top pushes the organic results even further down the page, meaning that users (depending on their screen resolution) may need to scroll down the page before even seeing any of the organic listings.
This can be daunting for people who are successfully sitting at position 1 for competitive keywords, whose website is now invisible to users until they scroll down the page. It’s no surprise that some people are calling this an end to SEO.
With this in mind it makes it even more crucial that you are aiming high and ranking in one of the top three spots of the organic listings. This gives you a greater chance to gain a decent proportion of the available traffic - providing the user actually scrolls down the page and doesn't go straight for an ad or other type of listing.
Click-through rate studies and research show that CTR decreases quite dramatically as you go down from positions 1-10 so it will be interesting to see what effect the extra ad has on the SERP click-through rate results.
Image from the 2016 CTR study, By Frank Kelly - Numbers represent percentages.
So what should we do
Up your competition - SEOs have always competed against paid ads, so why does one more make a difference? Optimise your meta title, meta description, and use schema to stand out from the crowd!
Examples of schema markup
Utilise long tail keywords - this has been said a lot over the last year or two, but with organic listings sometimes out of sight, it’s even more important you are using long tail keywords to drive traffic into your website.
Convert - converting visitors into leads becomes even more crucial, if ads are stealing visitors and your website has dropped out of sight on the SERP, it’s vital you optimise and convert any visitors that are visiting your website.
Focus on branding - if people are searching for your company name or brand rather than products you sell, then you avoid additional competition and the out of sight organic listings shown to your potential customers.
I believe that people are overreacting about the recent change, at the moment Google is only showing the extra top ad for highly commercial queries, which are usually very competitive organically anyway. With these types of queries you can find yourself competing against very high domain authority sites like Tripadvisor and Booking.com which can be extremely hard to rank above in the organic listings.
Additionally, with the invention of ad blockers, ads are often not visible to a lot of use. I believe those who are web savvy are fully aware that the top 3 or 4 results are paid ads so a large majority of these people tend to divert away and ignore them anyway. I for one automatically scroll past them when presented with the SERP and head straight to the organic results.
One thing is for certain, many industry professionals are not happy with the recent decision Google made. It will be interesting to see what effect this change is going to have on click-through rates from both an organic and paid perspective, as well as other metrics such as cost per click, organic rankings and quality score metrics.