No matter the industry, the most successful businesses are generally those that can quickly pivot and adapt to the times. Success with search engine marketing, whether PPC or SEO, follows the same principle.
The realm of search constantly evolves; rarely does anything remain constant. Whether it’s fundamental changes to how search algorithms function or alterations in search results to serve more ads, we—and you!—must keep up by adapting.
To grow the ad side of their business even more, Google has made several changes in the past year to insert more paid advertisements at the top, pushing organic results further down the page. Google recently made its two most fundamental changes to PPC ads since its existence. The first was phasing out right rail text ads while also adding an additional ad (for a total of four) at the top. The second and more recent was increasing the size of text ads (in beta / coming soon to all advertisers).
Now Google has made an even more significant change to search results, at least as it impacts businesses concerned with their local markets.
For local search results on Google, users will now see 2 organic results and 1 paid ad in what is called the “local pack.” This has several implications moving forward, so we decided to break it down and explain what it all means for both paid search and search engine optimization.
SEO Impacts & Perspective (by Stephen Hoops)
In the old days when SEO was a relatively new beast and it was considerably easier to achieve results, search engines over time became more complex in efforts to serve better search results to their users. But in addition to the search engines releasing algorithm updates that can render certain techniques useless in a matter of weeks, SEO practitioners also have to contend with changes to the layout of results when the search engines begin to favor serving more paid ads.
Simply put, paid ads diminish the value of scoring page 1 rankings if you aren’t in the top 3 as more ads will only push organic results further down the page. This is the truth many of us came to realize when Google released the changes to search back in February.
Shaking things up yet again, Google recently announced during SMX Advanced that ads will now be featured in the local pack. When a user triggers a local search result, this is what it would currently look like for someone in New York City looking for pizza:
After local ads begin to roll out, the top result will no longer be an organic listing and will be available as a paid advertisement. So this may be great news for believers of paid search, but this poses a unique set of challenges for SEO.
Just last August, the local pack used to have 7 listings before Google search was changed to only display 3. Getting into the local pack may not seem to be such a big deal, but for SMBs that have several competitors in a particular locale, things are about to become very competitive.
When your business is featured in the local pack, you also have the opportunity to be listed in the organic listings below, giving your business greater exposure. And with Google’s push for optimizing experiences on mobile devices, the local pack is an extremely effective way of reaching mobile users.
- So what now?
First, these kind of changes are to be expected from a search engine like Google. They want a good experience for their users, but they also need to make money, too.
But fear not because this does not mean the end of the world. There are 2 important things to either keep in mind or to begin thinking about with this change if your local business could be impacted:
1. Local SEO campaigns have just become that much more important. Make sure that you’re addressing your local SEO strategy to maximize efficiency and reach your goals.
2. If you haven’t thought about supporting your SEO strategy by expanding your paid advertising budget, now may be the time to do so. Using Google AdWords test campaigns can go an incredibly long way towards finding valuable keywords that you can then optimize for as part of your SEO strategy.
But so far, we’ve only taken a look at the impacts on SEO. Let’s explore what this could mean for paid search.
Paid Search Perspective (by Nikki Powley)
We’ve covered the major impact this will have on organic search results, but now you’re asking—what does this mean for my paid search campaigns?
First, let’s time travel back to when we discussed the impact of Google’s announcement to remove right-rail ads. This major change limited advertisers to 4 ad positions at the top of search results and completely eliminated the ad space to the right of organic search results.
Suddenly top of the page ad space became an even hotter commodity. Especially when you factored in the local pack results pushing the ad space at the bottom of search results even further below the fold.
My initial advertiser response to ads in the local pack was—alright, we’re getting top of page ad space back!
However, I’m now debating more questions that we will have to ponder until Google releases a beta program or more detailed AdWords information.
1. How many (if any) lines of description text will be available for ads inside the local pack?
- Description lines are imperative to share additional business information and encourage clicks. If ads in the local pack do not include description lines, I may prefer my client’s ads to appear in an ad position where they will display description lines and all available ad extensions.
2. Will advertisers be able to control ad placement in the local pack? Will there be bid modifiers to place ads or not place ads in this space?
- In some cases, we have seen businesses receive higher value conversions in the 2nd ad position as the 1st position generates a high click volume, but not necessarily more valuable traffic. If ads in the local pack produce results similar to 1st position ads, it could increase a business’s ad spend, but not necessarily increase conversion value.
And finally here’s a real doozy of a question…
3. If a business’s ad is placed in the local pack, does it also have the potential to appear in another ad position on the page?
- This will basically all businesses to double dip in terms of ad position and, much like double dipping your chip in the salsa, that’s just not cool. Plus, it will make competition just a bit higher.
Pivot & Adapt
Google has noticed the shift to mobile devices and is doing everything they believe can benefit their business to in order adapt to user behavior. You should be doing the same and never expect things to remain the same throughout time. These changes to the local pack in Google search results have both their own set of challenges and opportunities that your local business can tackle for the better.