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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistMon, Mar 28, 2016 9 min read

Google PPC Display Changes: Inbound Marketing Helps You Respond

Inbound Marketing Helps Companies Transition Away From PPC

PPC Is Rented Attention, Consider Earned With Inbound MarketingIf you use Google (and who doesn’t?), you might have noticed that the right-hand rail, where pay-per-click ads were displayed, has been removed. This happened on Monday, Feb. 22, when Google made the big change to how ads are displayed on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Previously, Google AdWords paid ads appeared as the top three positions above the organic content, down the entire right-hand side of the page and at the bottom. These right-hand ads allowed for more advertisers to have a presence on the coveted first page of Google. Due to the auction format of AdWords, clients with smaller budgets often found visibility in these lower right-hand ads because they were usually significantly cheaper than the highly competitive top three positions.

If you’re running pay-per-click campaigns, this change is going to dramatically affect how you manage and optimize them. Here are the details on the change.

  1. No text ads will be served on the right rail of the search results on desktop.
  2. Google will serve four text ads instead of three in the main area above the organic listings for more “highly commercial queries.”
  3. Three text ads will show at the bottom of the SERPs.
  4. The total number of text ads that can appear on a SERP will shrink from as many as 11 to a maximum of seven.
  5. Product listing ad blocks and Knowledge Panels (sometimes with ads, as tests continue in these spaces) will show in the right rail on relevant queries.

These updates are rolling out permanently and worldwide on both and search partners, though not all search partners offered sidebar inventory. Given the change, you should plan your campaigns accordingly. Here are some suggestions on how to adjust your search engine optimization strategy and what to expect.

Higher Cost Per Click

Given that this change has been live for almost 30 days, I’ve been looking for research or data to prove or disprove the assumption that less listings will produce a higher cost per click or cost per impression (since, theoretically, less slots mean higher rates). The experts all agree, but the jury is still out on whether this will actually be realized or not.

I think it makes sense that if you had 100 people bidding for 10 slots and now you only have four slots for the same amount of people, you would see an increase in the prices those people are willing to pay for those four slots.

Youre Going To Need Better Ads

We’ve been helping clients create better ads and better ad experiences for many years. We’ve seen dramatic results by moving away from linking the ads to home pages and, instead, linking them to landing pages. Most of you know that rankings for PPC are about more than just what you’re willing to pay for a keyword. They also have a lot to do with how often people find your ad valuable, as measured by how often people click on the ad.

That measure of value is going to continue to be critical. For a while, Google has had a major initiative to promote ads and listings on the organic side of the site that garner clicks (assuming that if people click the listing or ad, it is more valuable). So, the better your descriptions, your ads, your copy and your targeted message, the higher your ad or listing is going to rank.

Decline In Impressions And Clicks

Most of the experts agree: If you’ve been relying on Google PPC for visits and leads, you should expect to see a decline. Everyone does seem to be a little uncertain as to how dramatic the decline will be. We’re closely monitoring our client accounts for dramatic increases in bid amounts required and for dramatic drops in the visitors as a result of the change in pay-per-click ad display.

Focus On Organic

We’ve always focused on, and continue to recommend, earning your way into the prospect’s buyer journey. Earning rankings on the organic side, while more challenging, does produce better results with less investment requirements. It takes a very tight alignment between marketing strategy, keywords selected, content creation and search results, but with that strategy, you can drive results from the organic listing within Google.

The latest data from Google also shows that 70% of the people prefer the organic search results over the paid search results. Yet, this change makes the difference between search and organic much more difficult to discern. Yes, there’s a small yellow tag that says AD, but in the last 30 days, I’ve already accidentally clicked on those ads a number of times, thinking they were organic listings. Not only is this bad for me, but it’s also bad for the advertiser because I wasn’t interested in the ad. I simply made a mistake.

So, while this new change might be good for Google, we’re not sure it’s great for advertisers. Obviously, time will tell, and we’ll continue to monitor the impact on program performance.

Focus On Social PPC

This move by Google continues our trend toward doing more PPC with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. We’ve found through our testing that these social programs produce better results for lower levels of investment. Both click-through rates and cost-per-click numbers are far superior than general Google pay-per-click results.

Most of our internal testing on Square 2 Marketing has been validated through data from client programs. Social media PPC has become a de facto tactic in almost all of these programs. The value of the ads, the segmentation available and the cost-effective nature of the programs make these much more appealing as compared to Google pay-per-click programs.

Earned Versus Rented Attention

As we’ve mentioned many times, earned attention (versus rented attention) is going to take the cake almost every time. Pay-per-click advertising is rented attention. Organic search rankings are earned attention. There is a place for rented attention in certain programs at certain times with certain clients, but for long-term, sustainable, predictable and repeatable lead generation, we believe that organic rankings should be the focus of your “get found” strategy.

Start Today Tip – If you’re running a pay-per-click program on Google, you need to monitor both budget and results. It looks like monitoring is going to have to continue for at least another 30 days (perhaps toward the end of April), but that time frame could stretch out even another 30 or 60 days. There are many people watching to see the impact this change will have on pay-per-click programs, so following Moz, Search Engine Land and other respected sites is probably a good idea. If results are being impacted negatively, increasing your budget might be the best short-term option. If you’re noticing the bid amounts escalating, it might be time to start investing more aggressively in your organic ranking tactics. Tactics like off-site SEO, on-site SEO, content publication and influencer marketing all impact the visitor traffic to your site and represent risk-mitigation tactics for this most recent change.

Square 2 Marketing – Inbound Results Start With ME!


Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.