Buried AdWords Ad Positions

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Rank first in Google! Or Last, maybe.

The other week Google introduced a new ad position on their results pages, at the bottom of the page. Reporting in AdWords will only display two ad positions, top and other, grouping impressions on ads at the bottom of the page with those generated from ads to the side. The ‘Top vs. Side’ segment became ‘Top vs. Other’.

In the blog post announcing the launch the change was explained as providing benefits for the user experience without compromising the advertisers’ interests:

In many cases, we have found that displaying ads below search results fits better into the user’s flow as they scan the page from top to bottom. On average, this placement performed better than side ads in terms of click-through rate in our tests.

This change was not made without testing and enough data to give a clear indication of what the likely effect on the market would be. Ads have been seen in this position in a number of different markets prior to the announcement. Pre-launch testing is not all that surprising from Google and has been seen many times in the past.

Movement in the SERPS

Is there any value to the advertiser in appearing at the bottom of the search engine results page (SERP)? It is almost certain that, now that it is launched, Google found no problem for themselves, however their interests do not always correspond to that of their users, or customers. Adding ad positions below the fold has even attracted the attention of non-digital marketers, and how this change and the uncertainty it introduces would affect the perceived value of an AdWords click.

Click throughs by Average Position on the first page

Graph from Click Throughs in the Search Results

A lot of data has been graphed and blog posts written on how organic listings below the first two do not receive a lot of traffic. The difference between the click through rate of AdWords ads positioned above the organic results and those to the right is significant. Putting ads below the tenth spot certainly doesn’t seem like it would increase the number of clicks each ad could get. But maybe that is not the point.

Splitting ad positions between the top and the bottom of the SERP differentiates the two positions further than between the top and the side. The top results will appear less cluttered with fewer links, even with the addition of more Google Places content.

For the AdWords advertiser, the perceived and probably actual value of a top three position also increases. With additional ads moved to the bottom of the page, the amount of above the fold screen real estate available is reduced.

Differentiated Impressions

Like the introduction of above the fold bidding on the content network, creating further differentiation between advertising inventory in AdWords creates additional products. Moving some of this inventory below the fold creates a greater difference in value, and potentially intensifies competition for one class of product.

The cost for placements above and below the fold will change as a consequence of this. The cost of traffic for placements consistently appearing below the fold will probably increase. Decreased visibility will affect their click through rate (CTR), and as a result negatively affect Quality Score (QS).

Placements at the top of the page will probably benefit from this. What one position loses in exposure the other should gain. The Quality Scores for the top placements should improve, if they receive a greater share of the advertising traffic for any given SERP. To what degree this will result in a lower cost per click will depend on what, if anything, changes in bidding behaviour from the other participants in the market.

The most likely outcome from Google’s latest change to how AdWords ads are displayed is an increase in revenue per impression. Creating greater differentiation between advertising inventory will encourage advertisers to modify their tactics and spending to maximise impressions above the fold, possibly raising the average cost per click. Moving one kind of ad position to a position below the fold will increase the value and yield on those that remain above, while the almost inevitable decline in CTR and QS will increase their cost per click.

Update: Google announced in a blog post titled New ways to take action on top of page bid estimates new tools to automate bidding to appear specifically above the fold. While it is not like the options introduced with above the fold bidding on the content network, the effect is the same.

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