Removing the ads from the right rail of Google search results pages was a long time coming (well, a long time for digital). An eye-mapping study from last year showed that people have gone from viewing the SERPs in an “F” pattern to doing a quick vertical scan down the left side, mostly ignoring the ads on the right side. People are also scanning the page faster by taking only eight or nine seconds to click, down from 14 to 15 seconds in the 2005 study.
It only makes sense that Google would eventually react to how searchers are adapting to the line of links they are used to by taking away the right bar. This is also further evidence of Google’s continued gravitation toward being a mobile-first search engine, since the right column of ads was not visible on mobile search.
While I understand why SEO professionals might worry, I don’t think the recent move to showing up to four ads above organic results will have a profound effect on organic search. The extra ad will only be showing on “highly commercial queries,” and there are several keyword types that remain ad-free or only have one or two ads on top, like e-commerce keywords with PLAs and no text ads, or long-tail keyword phrases.
All that said, no one trying to improve organic search traffic could be happy with the addition of extra ads before the 10 blue organic links. While we can’t change the SERP layout, there are a few ways we can react to maintain a solid SEO strategy. Here are a few ways you can adapt to the ever-changing SERPs.
Keyword research has always been an essential part of any SEO effort. With so much variation in SERP layouts and the potential to have up to four ads before organic results, strategic keyword research is even more important.
When determining which keywords you are going to pursue, search each term to see what kind of search results layout you are going to be competing within. I recommend placing a higher priority on keywords that have fewer ads between the organic results and the top of the page. (Naturally, there is a lot more to good keyword research than seeing how many ads are shown for a given search query, but this can be a tiebreaker between keywords when building an SEO strategy.)
Review your top keyword targets to see if the SERP layout pushes organic results far down the page, and adjust strategy when necessary.
Also, note SERP layouts that include other results you can target, such as videos, images or featured snippets. Below are just a few examples of SERPs related to muffler repair that still favor organic results.
With more ads showing up on top, the local 3-pack is getting pushed down — and this pushes the organic results below the fold.
This really highlights the importance of a solid local SEO strategy for brick-and-mortar businesses. If local SEO is relevant to you, I recommend focusing on getting into the local 3-pack to stay above the fold.
I would also focus on being included in authoritative directories and review sites if they rank near the top of organic search results for local keywords, as it is likely difficult to outrank them. If you can’t win the ranking, you might as well be on the site that can.
Take this opportunity to review your content strategy. Every query is different, but I am still seeing most long-tail keywords surfacing ad-free search results pages. E-commerce and product related terms also seem to have SEO-friendly SERP layouts. Look for opportunities in the long tail for less competition from ads and other organic results.
You can also check the short-tail keywords to discover other content opportunities. For example, if you see your blog post is being outranked by video results, consider making a video, posting it on YouTube and embedding it in the blog post.
Many have expressed their concern about the new SERP layout and are calling out Google for their greed. I’m here to reassure SEOs that the sky is not falling, and everything is still okay in organic search. We have to continue to evolve and adapt to a mobile-first world, which means less on sidebars and faster scanning through search results.