One of the most powerful pieces of marketing for businesses today does not come from any traditional marketing channels. It comes from SEO, and how competitively you rank for your main converting keywords. This means that any time changes happen in the Google landscape that could affect where a company lands on a SERP, it is something that marketers everywhere need to be aware of and prepare for. Recently, This means that, while this update is not necessarily a huge loss if your ad was once on the side, you are highly unlikely to see any kind of improvement unless your ad is now at the top. How do you achieve this? According to Google’s own AdWords guidelines on the subject, there are a few things you need to consider. Focus on relevance: Make sure your keywords, ads, and landing pages are relevant to what customers are searching for. Keep your keyword list fresh: Are you using the right keywords to reach your customers? Keep your bid competitive: Try keeping your bid high enough so that you can compete with other advertisers who are also bidding on the same keywords you are. Check your account often: Making small but regular improvements now could have a big impact later on. If you utilize paid search as strategy, then these guidelines need to be even more important to you following this recent change. If you want your ads to truly be effective, you need to be incredibly smart and competitive about them. Considering the massive drop in effectiveness between top and bottom of the page ads, you are unlikely to yield very substantial gains if your ads are constantly being buried at the bottom of the page. In fact, they likely are impacting the organic traffic for the results above them more than your own. Organic Search and AdWords This update to AdWords has not only impacted paid search, however. It has also affected organic search and SEO, which are things that, unlike paid search, every single company with an internet presence needs to be concerned about at some level. With an extra paid result at the top of SERPs, all organic results are pushed further down the page. This means that fewer results are above the fold, and you now have an extra paid result to compete with. This is especially important because of the higher rate that users click on paid results at the top of the page versus the now-defunct right-side paid results. You also need to have an awareness of what SERPs look like for your own business’ major keywords. This is because, depending on your industry, you may also be fighting against other Google SERP features like shopping, images, local results, and news, as well as paid search, for SERP real estate. If your competitive keywords happen to have really busy SERPS than even if you are ranking on the first page you are going to be pushed further down the page. Interestingly, however, where brands actually need to be the most aware of their search results neighborhood is near the top of a SERP. According to data by Advanced Web Ranking, who has been doing in-depth tracking of click-through rates since July 2014, while ranking in the first few results will still lead to by far the best CTR, the dropoff for this rate grows rapidly with each top of the page ad. Data Courtesy of Advanced Web Ranking In this, their most recent published data, from March 2016, organic search results in the top positions are shown to have dramatic declines in CTR with each additional paid result at the top of the page. This effect is strong enough that, for SERPs with three top ads, pages ranking number one are receiving less click-throughs than those ranked second when there are no ads, and more than 10% fewer than pages that rank first when there are no ads. This means that you need to know what paid search looks like on the SERPs for your keywords While you still want to rank highly, when there are more paid search results at the top of the page, you should expect diminished returns when it comes to your CTR. Advanced Web Ranking’s data does not yet show the effects of four top ads (though they did inform me on Twitter that this data will be available in future updates), but the effects of top ads seems to be consistent enough that the addition of one more top ad will continue the trend. This change impacts results that fall lower on a SERP, as well. Though the difference is much smaller than the one at the first few positions, ads at the bottom of the page also impact CTR. Though, in this case, it has an inverse effect of those at the top. Advanced Web Ranking’s data also shows that, when there are ads present at the bottom of a page, it actually improves CTR for most organic results within a SERP, while the difference made by top of the page ads becomes increasingly negligible further down a page. Data Courtesy of Advanced Web Ranking If your keywords are ones that frequently lead to these bottom ads, this increases the importance of your organic SEO, since landing yourself (even near the bottom) on the first page of these search queries means not only the huge benefits that naturally come from the higher ranking, but the bonus of this increased CTR, as well. Using Data to Improve Organic Search Whether paid search is part of your marketing and SEO strategy, or you rely solely on organic search, you need to be aware of how Google’s recent AdWords shake-up affects search for your brand’s target keywords. Once you have this knowledge, you can use it to better plan and strategize to maximize the power that search has as a marketing tool. One of the biggest dangers a business can fall victim to is believing misconceptions, myths, or outdated information, and then basing their decisions on them. This is especially true when it comes to paid versus organic search. Despite plenty of people believing or suspecting otherwise, these two are absolutely separate from each other, and paid search will not, nor is it likely to ever, bail you out from subpar organic SEO. This is summed up well by Cory Collins in his post on Linkarati about Matt Cutts debunking common SEO myths. “It’s been said numerous times before, but Google has a separation of church and state when it comes to organic and ads. The two absolutely do not mix, and buying ads will neither help nor hurt your organic rankings within search. The only way to improve your organic rankings is to better optimize your site for search – good old fashioned SEO.” One of the best ways to make sure you are using sound, accurate strategies is by optimizing the way you use data to inform your decisions. Specifically, you need to make sure you are both collecting quality data, and utilizing it in an effective way. As The University of Maryland points out, “The key to any data-driven solution is acquiring high-quality, highly usable data.” This means that you need to be smart about the types of data you are collecting and using. First, you need to be able to know where you and your own site stand when it comes to important performance metrics, such as your overall traffic and where it is coming from, organic search ranking for your target keywords, and ad placement in paid search, as well as any major fluctuations that happen. A great starting place for this is by using Google Analytics, but there are many other useful tools to consider, as well. Having this data about yourself does not give you the entire picture, however. You also need to look at your competitors and use what data you can gather about them and their performance to help inform your own strategies and decisions. Obviously, you won’t have the luxury and ease of their Google Analytics data, but fortunately, the other tools at your disposal will allow you to get a better look at the overall competitive picture. Google is such an important source of business for many companies that even small changes affect people greatly. AdWords doesn’t just affect paid search, it affects organic as well. Because of this, brands need to be aware of whenever Google makes changes to AdWords and how those changes affect them. Being aware of this lets you capitalize on these changes and better your efforts rather than losing out because of them. 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