Google SERP Redesign: Performance Implications for Paid & Organic Search

INTRODUCTION

Recently, Google rolled out some significant changes to the search engine results pages (SERPs), which it had been testing in mobile.  With the redesign, Google is focused on keeping the results consistent across mobile, tablet and desktop.  Google also pointed out that the redesigned page should improve readability and appear cleaner to users.  Some of these changes may impact paid and organic search strategies, as described in this POV.

The redesign includes:

  • New font
  • Larger text
  • Lighter organic META description text (grey rather than black)
  • Removal of the underline under all links
  • Removal of the shaded background around ads
  • Addition of an “Ad” icon next to ads
  • Addition of a line separating AdWords ads from organic results

ScreenHunter_03 Mar. 18 17.40

 

Image source: Search Engine Watch

PAID SEARCH: IMPACT & PERFORMANCE IMPLICATIONS

CTRs

It has been suggested that the new SERP makes ads less obvious, which could increase paid ad click-through at the expense of organic listing click-through—due to the removal of the shaded background around the top-sponsored ads.  On the other hand, ads could be more obvious due to the new yellow “Ad” icon.  Since the change, few brands have reported significant changes to their ads’ click-through rates (CTRs).

We believe that it isn’t in Google’s (or its advertiser’s) best interest to foster “accidental” clicks on ads.  AdWords is built on relevancy; Google and its advertisers continually strive to create relevant advertising experiences in order to satisfy searchers.  Searchers who accidentally click on ads and quickly bounce from landing pages may choose to use another search engine altogether.  Additionally, advertiser Quality Score is negatively impacted by irrelevant ad clicks, and Google doesn’t want the format of ads to hurt Quality Scores.

Actions to Take

Google is constantly testing and refining the SERP, and—in this instance—has decided that the redesign will foster usability, not irrelevant ad clicks.  That being said, like with any SERP change, advertisers should:

  • Pay close attention to any changes in CTRs since the change
  • Evaluate any Quality Score impacts
  • For mission-critical keywords, evaluate any sudden changes in budget pacing

ORGANIC SEARCH: IMPACT & PERFORMACE IMPLICATIONS

<TITLE> Tags

In organic search, the most obvious impact of the SERP redesign concerns <TITLE> tags.  The combination of larger text and a new, wider font have truncated some <TITLE> tags.  The example shows how only part of the original <TITLE> tag for The Financial Times is shown in the new results page:

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In the past, a character limit of 70 characters has been imposed on <TITLE> tags in order to avoid truncation on Google’s results pages.  Now, this character limit may need to be revised to roughly 60 characters in order to avoid truncation.  <TITLE> tags that appear in full on the results page are more informative and more likely to be clicked by users.

META Descriptions

The character limit of META descriptions doesn’t seem to have been affected, though the switch from black text to grey could be perceived as a statement of their relevancy.

Actions to Take

The changes to the Google results may or may not be a hit with users, but they do present one significant challenge to long-standing SEO recommendations.  Going forward:

  • <TITLE> tags should be written (or rewritten) to remain at or below 60 characters.  In some cases, this may only encompass the primary keyword assigned to a page, and it certainly limits any creative statement that could previously be made in the <TITLE> tag.
  • Because the <TITLE> tag is shortened, the META description becomes the best chance to inject brand voice into search engine results pages and to describe the page’s content in more detail

Overall, Google’s SERP changes are mainly aesthetic.  While ad clicks should be monitored for impact and <TITLE> tags should be revisited, these are the only noteworthy performance implications for paid and organic search.