Yodle Weighs in on How Google’s SERP Change Has Affected Online Ads for SMBs

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In the days and weeks immediately following Google’s removal of side ads, there was no shortage of speculation about what the impact of this change would be, with most digital pundits predicting ruinous effects. Todd Bairstow’s article in Street Fight, “Making Sense of Google’s Changes that Just Blew up Online Ads for Local Businesses,” declared: “There’s really no way to overstate what a massive change this is for everyone in the SEM industry.”

With a few weeks of empirical data, we now have a much clearer sense of how or if this change has affected local AdWords campaigns. At Yodle, we have seen a negligible effect on the performance metrics of the search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns we run on behalf of our local small business clients.

As Vice President of Yodle’s SEM Product and Performance team, I oversee the department that is responsible for building and optimizing the platform that manages tens of thousands of small business clients’ SEM campaigns. Here’s what we have seen so far:

Street Fight - Normalized Clicks_CPCs Over Time Image

Source: Yodle Inc. internal data from December 2, 2015-March 1, 2016.

The last data point from Feb. 22-Feb. 28, 2016 is the week after the Google ad change rolled out (the week of Dec. 22, 2015 contains the week of Christmas). What would be concerning to see in this type of graph would be either a dramatic increase in cost per clicks (CPCs) without a corresponding increase in clicks (i.e. we’re paying more for the same number of clicks) or stable CPCs with a drop in clicks (i.e. we’re paying the same and getting fewer clicks). What we actually saw in this graph was a very slight increases in both CPCs and cost; the auction dynamics were not noticeably different.

In other words, the sky didn’t fall. The impact was essentially nothing.

Over the years there have been a number of “big” announcements that came with apocalyptic prophesies from experts in their wake. It’s easy to fall into this mindset but you have to remember our industry is constantly evolving and we are tasked with adapting to change. One of my favorite quotes that I use to advise my team and our clients during a change like this is: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The choices that Google makes in its search engine results page (SERP) design are beyond advertisers’ control. But what are those things we can actually do that can help ensure campaigns are successful?

In light of the removal of side position ads on Google, there are a few actions every small business advertiser should take, all of which were important before but are especially critical now.

First, make sure your campaigns are taking advantage of all ad extensions that are relevant to your business. With even more emphasis on the top positions, ads with extensions enabled will have more opportunities to catch the attention of your potential customers and capture clicks. Over the past two weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time manually observing the SERPs for our clients’ keywords, and we’ve never seen such a wide variety of ad extensions being mixed and matched. If you’re not using ad extensions, you’re giving your competition an easy opening to outperform you in the auction and on the SERP.

The second recommendation is to revisit your approach to mobile. This is something that hopefully you have already spent a good amount of time on, but if the prospect of a dramatic decrease in desktop clicks gave you a scare, that’s a good sign that you’re weak on mobile. As you may already know, mobile queries surpassed desktop queries last year. In 2016, there is no such thing as a standalone “mobile strategy,” it’s your “holistic marketing strategy.” Make sure that you’ve enabled call and location extensions and are able to track the conversions you’re getting from mobile traffic so that you can set your mobile bid adjustments appropriately.

Finally, keep calm, carry on, and continue to nail all the fundamentals that have brought you success up to this point. Going after relevant, high-converting traffic, writing compelling ads, and keeping your website current with helpful information about the services you offer are going to be the foundation of a successful campaign no matter where your clicks are coming from on the SERP.

greg-headshot-(1)Greg Aponte is Vice President of Paid Product Performance, Product and Marketing at Yodle. Yodle is a leader in online marketing and empowers 50,000+ local businesses to find and keep their customers simply and profitably. Yodle is a Web.com company.