New Google Ad layout implications

SEO Manager Stacy Nelson and PPC Executive Stuart MacLean examine the new Google ad layout change and the implications for hotel clients.

If you’re in the digital community, you’ll already know that Google has shaken up SERPs. Again. As hotel marketing experts, we’ve had a look into how this might affect a hotel digital marketing campaign. PPC Executive, Stuart MacLean, and SEO Manager, Stacy Nelson, talk through their predictions in light of the changes.

On Friday the 19th of February, Google announced that paid search results on desktop would no longer appear in the right sidebar, after testing variations of this theme for several years. In their place, as many as four paid search ads will now appear at the top of Google’s search engine results pages (SERP’s), above the organic listings, on highly commercial queries where Google perceives an intent to purchase your product or service. Furthermore, three paid search ads will also appear at the bottom of Google’s search results. This means that the total number of paid search listings will drop from as many as 11 to a maximum of 7.

Will Fewer Paid Ads Mean Higher CPCs for Hotels?

So, what does this mean for hotel advertisers? It’s been hotly debated in the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) community. Whilst it is an advantage to advertisers that there will be fewer paid search listings, and therefore fewer competitors appearing above the fold (ATF), the issue of competition is more complicated than that. Competition will increase for those coveted top spots of the search results. We predict that this will result in cost per clicks (CPC) increasing just to maintain the same position, certainly for non-branded search terms.

Some disagree, believing that CPC’s for the top spots will become cheaper for advertisers. But this assumes that demand will decrease for these spots!

Far from impacting hotel paid search campaigns detrimentally, we see a few positives to take away from these changes. One major upside is a potential increase in traffic from hotel ads showing in the top three or four positions. Without the right hand side ads to distract the user, we anticipate an increase in the click-through-rates for our top-of-the-page ads.

Another positive that hotels will benefit from is that ad extensions will become more prominent with the potential to have all hotel offers visible in paid ads. Now that Google are displaying several ads at the top of the SERPs, it’s more likely that most, if not all, ad extensions could be displayed at any one time (driving organic listings even further down the page).

Google’s official communication is typically tight lipped:

“Google is continuously making improvements to ads quality as part of our ongoing efforts to improve users' experience with our ad products. Specifically, in the recent launch we have made an improvement to our system which determines expected click through rate. Overall, we expect these changes to be positive for users and advertisers, but some advertisers may observe fluctuations in core metrics and impression coverage for some of their keywords. As always, you can increase the likelihood of receiving an impression by improving your quality or raising your bids.”

Among their recommendations is increasing and/or uncapping campaign budgets and raising bids to ensure above the fold presence. This is hardly surprising, since increased bids mean increased profit for Google! But we don’t think it’s time to panic yet. It’s too soon to tell what implications this may have on hotel paid search campaigns and their performance. Any knee-jerk reactions could be far more detrimental to your PPC account than the changes Google have made.

What About Hotel SEO?

So we’ve not to panic yet about PPC. What about organic? The resounding message from the SEO community is of impending doom. According to Larry Kim, “[w]ithout a doubt, this change is bad news for anyone involved in SEO. Paid position #4 was the old organic position #1.

However, based on the data available, this might be a bit of an overreaction. The majority of search users do tend to be “ad savvy”, scrolling past paid ads to organic results. This is why click through rates are generally higher for organic position one than paid adverts – over 70% of users click on page 1 organic results – and we would expect this to continue. This is supported by a number of users using ad-blocking software – around 10% of UK internet users in 2015 (approx. 4.5 million).

Until there is more data as to how the change will impact organic search CTRs, it’s not advisable to dramatically change your SEO strategy. However, there are a few key areas you can focus on to get ahead of the curve.

Local SEO is imperative to hotels, and has been since the map-pack shake-up last year. This was when the map-pack began to rank above organic results. Now the presence of the map-pack plus ads in SERPs puts the first organic result at position 8, meaning it’s more important than ever for hotels to nail their local SEO strategy.

Also, structured data like schema.org makes organic results more attractive with “rich snippets”. Rich snippets refer to additional information in organic search results, such as room rates or a star rating. The additional information can improve click-through-rates, and allows organic search results to compete with paid ads visually.

In Line With Mobile

It’s worth noting that over 50% of searches won’t be affected at all – that’s how many searches come from mobile devices. Mobile results have been in this format all along. This ties in with a general move from Google to one overall view of search, regardless of device. Most digital marketers already keep mobile in mind, since “Mobilegeddon” in 2015.

Blended Digital Marketing

There is no official confirmation as of yet to the longevity of these changes, but the new search results layout will be with us for the foreseeable future. The best advice we have is to adopt an integrated approach to digital hotel marketing, where PPC, SEO, and all other facets of digital marketing blend and complement each other. Where hotels aren’t ranking above the fold organically, you can ensure that PPC supports your SEO strategy to prevent these changes from having a significant impact on your bottom line.

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