By Julianne Bohl
When Google first started testing “bottom vs. side” ads, it struck me as suspicious. For the five years I’ve been in Search advertising, an ad position of three was pretty solid – you could still get plenty of eyeballs on your ad for high-cost terms without breaking the bank. With “side” ads now “bottom” ads, I wonder how advertisers who don’t have bottomless pockets are staying competitive and maintaining positive ROAS on non-brand terms.
Why would Google do this? To me it seems simple: They see an opportunity to bring in more ad dollars. There were several weeks when the team would chat to clients about this change in ad position and performance and we’d say, we don’t know what Google’s going to use that valuable real estate for, but they’re thinking up something!
Well, we’ve seen a few things happening in that upper right hand corner of the Google SERPs lately, most interestingly Google+ page results and the ever-expanding PLAs. Google seems to be having a tough time getting Google+ to take hold. I know a lot of people – friends and coworkers alike – who have created accounts but have done nothing with them since. It seems advertisers are behaving the same way, and Google has been trying like heck to encourage more engagement from its advertisers. When we first noticed a Google+ result in that top right corner and inquired with reps about how to get that result for our clients, we were told that the organic result simply requires updating your Google+ page every 24-48 hours. I’m surprised more advertisers didn’t capitalize on this opportunity for some free inventory. I’m guessing if they had, we’d be seeing these results become a more prominent and permanent fixture. In fact, I think it’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen one of these results at all.
PLA results make more sense (more opinions on this coming soon!). Google has revamped its Google Products search and we now have Google Shopping, where a current mix of partially paid and free results will ultimately transition to all paid results. It makes sense then, that PLAs are being tested at the top right (a former ad spot) as opposed to between the top paid and organic listings. They now look more like paid ads. If I had to make a guess, PLAs in ad spots are here to stay and will probably continue to take up more and more placement on the SERPs.
While the top right corner is going through some growing pains, what’s going on in the traditional top middle? Something else to think about: Will desktop CPC start to look more like tablet, where the top position is critical to getting volume? If an advertiser can no longer simply depend on a first-page result for some decent impression, click and conversion volume, but rather must bid for positions 1 and 2, I predict two outcomes: an overall rise in CPCs and a decline in small-budget advertisers who just can’t keep up with the CPCs.