Right now, as you read this, athletes around the world are working hard and persisting in pain to prepare to represent their country and find personal glory at the 2016 Olympics.
Yet, let’s be honest: except for their families and a few close friends, unless athletes end up on the podium in one of those top three places with medals around their necks, all that effort and sacrifice will go mostly unnoticed. Nobody remembers who came 16th, 8th or even 5th.
Digital marketers are now facing a similar situation due to recently announced changes to Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) layout. Google adds another paid search result at the top, bringing the total to a maximum of four, while eliminating ad positions on the side of the page. The new SERP layout will also have three ads at the bottom, although truth be told, they are much less valuable.
The net effect is that there will be 30% fewer ad opportunities on the page from a maximum of 11 slots to a maximum of 7 slots, which makes earning one of those four spots in the lead about as important (and difficult) as placing in the leaderboard. Olympic Games.
These changes also have another effect: they keep Google’s focus on larger advertisers with large budgets and therefore best positioned to bid on those coveted positions. Small and medium-sized businesses will be less likely to be able to compete for these top spots.
But if you’re one of the lucky few who can compete, there are things you can do to improve your chances of winning medals in pay-per-click (PPC) and click-through-rate (CTR) events.
Be strategic with your ads and messaging
Google uses a variety of criteria to determine who gets those top spots. You can help your cause (and produce better results) if you effectively use manual AdWords ad extensions, such as apps, calls, and locations. There are seven manual extensions in total, including structured code snippets, which can be used to convey a variety of messages to your audience and encourage immediate action.
With so many choices, however, you need to be careful to eliminate redundancy, especially if multiple people are working on your AdWords campaign. You want to maximize that real estate by presenting as many options as possible to customers.
That’s why it pays to have someone do an ad audit that shows you what consumers are seeing on the SERP. You can then use this information to make adjustments.
Athletes are constantly tweaking their mechanics and mental game to ensure the best performance when it all comes down to it. You should do the same. The more you stand out in this new format, the better the ROI will be for your business.
Get more specific with targeting
You always want to play to your strengths. Sprinters generally don’t do well in distance races, and shot putters generally don’t make good decathletes.
Google AdWords continues to evolve, making it easier for you to reach highly qualified audiences. Last year, Google rolled out Customer Match, which gives advertisers more control over which customers to include and exclude to see their ads. As long as you have an email address, you can use Customer Match to show the right ad based on where customers are in the buying cycle (as long as they’re logged into their account Google). It’s very effective at guiding customers through the sales cycle and improves as you gain data about your customers.
Another great option is Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). This Google feature makes it easy to tailor your search ads and campaigns to people who have visited your website before, whether they made a purchase or not. If they had enough interest to click on your site once, they are likely to click again, if you show them the right message. You can use RLSA to capture one of these best spots based on previous history.
Other targeting features allow you to use Google AdWords to personalize ads and campaigns based on factors such as income and geography. The more you divide and carve out your audience, the more opportunity you will have to move your customers and prospects into action.
Take advantage of purchase improvements
Smart retailers can use Buy Now campaigns and Product Offering Ads (PLAs) to gain additional benefits.
Now that the side ads are gone, those top four spots will stand out even more because there will be fewer distractions. If you’ve generally been to one of the best locations, chances are you’ll see an increase in traffic now – a good reason to keep spawning in that area. For those not in one of these top four spots, shopping ads are a good way to stand out if/when customers scroll down the page.
Either way, you need to get smarter and stay smarter about how and when your ads appear. Just keep in mind that with a 30% reduction in ads on the page, the competition is likely to get fierce. The best thing you can do is hone your skills in feed optimization, negative keyword closing, and other techniques that will help ensure the right ads are served to the right customers at the right time.
Consider other channels
Clearly, Google is the Olympics of search; if you can capture one of the coveted spots, it can do wonders for your business.
But what if you can’t? Small and medium-sized businesses will find it increasingly difficult to compete over time, and even large organizations could struggle. So it might be worth considering other channels, such as Bing or Yahoo, which can still deliver great results.
By testing on multiple platforms, you can determine whether you should keep all of your investments in Google, or perhaps branch out to others where you can gain a more dominant position.
You can also consider alternatives such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube which also have high traffic. Although they were once considered second-tier, many advertisers now find them effective. Look at it this way: YouTube is the second-largest search engine, with more searches than Bing, Yahoo, Ask and AOL combined. Why not enjoy it ?
Bring home the gold
Unless an Olympic contender is Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the athletes who will get the bulk of the attention and glory will be those who step onto the podium.
With changes to Google SERP, it’s time to rethink bidding strategies to ensure you take one of those top four spots. You might not land on a Wheaties box, but you will definitely improve your chances of boosting your results.