Breaking – Google Changes the SERP – Images are King and PPC Holds the Key to the Kingdom

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Breaking – Google Changes the SERP – Images are King and PPC Holds the Key to the Kingdom

Oops they did it again

We know Google is constantly testing things on their SERP (Search Engine Results Page) with new products, new layouts, new colors etc. But lately it seems that Google has really been focused on not just simple changes, but dramatically changing the basic core of what as SERP looks like. Today Google changes SERP layout in a dramatic way. Check the images below for some examples.

Kate Spade Google PLA Focused SERP

Just earlier today the SERP would have looked more like the image below.  When PLAs first rolled out they looked like the images in that article.

Google SERP PLA layout pre 12/04/2013

The way things used to be

Images and PLAs (Product Listing Ads) are much more prominent than they used to be. Even in non PLA focused SERPs images rule the roost as you can see below –

ImageHeavy SERP automotive


Also now all PPC ads  have a white background and an orange “ad(s)” label. If you hadn’t noticed most of those screen shots you are lucky to get one organic result above the fold.


What does this mean for  me?

  1. It looks like the SERP is moving to be more image focused.
  2. Product Listing Ads (or Shopping Ads) are even more important
  3. Expect to pay more for PLAs both on CPC and Budget
  4. Ads are now called out even more (with an image label)
  5. Expect different results than what you used to get for Top VS Other

What has Google said about the changes?

First of all don’t get upset at your account team if you were not notified ahead of time. I have it on good authority they only found out about the change this morning via email themselves. Some advertisers have already been informed and others will be shortly I am sure.

Much of the below information comes from an email I received just a few minutes ago from Google.

What specifically is changing?

  1. New labeling for ads on desktop: Ads will no longer appear on a colored background and instead will feature an orange “Ad” label in the visible URL line.
  2. In conjunction with this change, users will now begin seeing Product Listing Ads show above text ads in top positions when relevant to the user query.

As mentioned above how “ads” are labeled is changing, and Product Listing Ads are going to be at the top of SERPs instead of on the side or underneath the top ads.

The scope of the changes is Global  in nature on desktops. It is currently running on 50% of traffic but is expected be to 100% of all searches by the end of day December 4th

How will this impact my ads, cpc, budget etc?

Expected Impact: Multiple experiments were conducted over a number of weeks, confirming a neutral to positive impact on ads performance. In regards to PLAs specifically, the expectation is that this will increase PLA clicks, so we at our company recommend to increase budgets by 10% to capitalize on increased click volume.

So expect to increase your PLA bids and budget if you want to be in that top position on the SERP now. If you aren’t running PLAs best get your feeds in order and at least test them.

Google did also give a few more details on the two main ad related changes:

Ads Labeling Details
Back in September, we announced updates to the look and feel of our search results page on mobile, including a bright label for “Ads”. We’re adding this label on the desktop to provide a consistent experience with our products across screens.
Top-Screen PLA Details
As part of our continued efforts to create the best user experience, users will now begin seeing Product Listing Ads at the top of the desktop and tablet search results page, in addition to mobile which launched in prior months.  We received positive feedback from users during early tests and have seen an increase in overall traffic to advertisers. As always, we’ll continue to improve the experience based on user feedback.
 – Google is constantly experimenting and revamping the ways in which we deliver our results, to keep our advertisers‘ and users’ best interests in mind. Unfortunately, at this time we are not able to offer any further information on these changes. (emphasis added)
If you think the changes are done, Google wanted to make sure we knew that they are constantly changing “the ways in which [they] deliver [their] results.”
There hasn’t been much info on the non-ad changes with a higher focus on images on the SERP. So if you know more make sure to comment.
What do you make of the changes? Will you be making any changes to the way you manage PPC including PLAs now this has rolled out?

Hat tip to Andrew Bethel for the original heads up.

All images are screenshots taken 12/04/2103 of by author

Bryant Garvin

Bryant Garvin

PPC Dictator & Chief Consultant at Bryant Garvin Consulting
Bryant Garvin has been involved with marketing for over 10 years known by many of his peers as the PPC Dictator. He is currently focused... Read Full Bio
Bryant Garvin
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  • Andrew Bethel

    This change puts even more importance on having a clean and optimized product feed. If you are in ecommerce this will severely impact you.

    I won’t even get started on top vs side. Good thing we can bid based on position…

    • Bryant Garvin

      Andrew you are absolutely right. PLAs all start with the feed. This is going to bring the importance of it up even more.

      It will be interesting to see how top vs side is impacted over the next little while. Especially the top ad positions.

  • Josh Mangum

    Well this seems like a barrel of laughs for SEO companies

    • Bryant Garvin

      Whatever do you mean Josh?

      With Organic being pushed down more and more it definitely makes an impact.

    • Amber

      Tell me about it… Google only cares about paid advertisers nowadays and is making it quite clear they don’t care about organic results!!

  • pip

    “Ads are now called out even more (with an image label)” – True, but for the sole purpose to make the PLAs, which still have the grey ‘sponsored’ tag, look more oranic and relevant

    • Bryant Garvin

      Pip that is an interesting perspective and good observation. I am not 100% sure that is the reason but it could be a part of it.

      I am more inclined to think it had to do with the FCC smackdown a little while ago around the search engines not being clear on how ads were labeled.

      Google decided to follow the letter of the impetus, but found a way it actually helps, not hinders, their revenue.

  • Sunday

    This move is readily very crucial for marketers to image centric in their marketing approach. The new Google SERP features offers much more for image content providers. However, I readily agree with the concept “Expect to pay more for PLAs both on CPC and Budget”. This is one takeaway marketers should take from this information.

    • Bryant Garvin

      I was just arguing the other day on Twitter about the SERPs becoming more image focused and it not being a bad thing because really humans are visual creatures. Our vision is one of our most highly developed senses. make sure you are optimizing you images in your feed as well. Don’t just use the “manufacturer” default image.

      • Kirk Williams

        I can’t agree with this more. I have a client who sells industrial equipment of a sort and when you search for PLAs of their equipment you generally see a row of identical images. I have encouraged them to take the time to take high quality and interesting (a refrigerator door open, etc) images at least initially of their top selling products to make those things pop in the SERPs. It might be an initial pain/cost for people but Google continually demonstrate that images are the way they’re going, so it’s time to raise the level of product photography!

  • Giovanni Dattoma

    The way things might turn in the end:

    a) Google moving in the direction of serving advertisers in the best way in order
    to increase revenues.
    b) Move in line with the growth of image sites like Pinterest.
    c) Secure market share with competitors like Amazon and Facebook.

    Google will not stop to test things out and change algorithms to serve their
    business interests.

    The online world will, I guess, turn very similar to the offline world, with
    big corporations always with the lion share.

    Respite? move to different pastures / create different pastures.

  • Hans Storrie

    Thanks for sharing this Bryant. I wondered what was going on with PLA placements in the SERP’s. Mind you, a picture tells a thousand words and I think it’s time for product owners to really take advantage of this. Well optimised product images will definitely be the way forward. I’m curious to know if there would be any duplicate content issues when it comes to lots of people selling, or even promoting the same product. After all, there’s only so many images that can stretch horizontally in the SERP’s, especially if every SEO company uses the same optimisation strategies!

  • Murray Rivers

    Now that you can drag a photo into the search bar of google image search and it will return everywhere it has found that image it reinforces that change in mood towards images. I have a feeling that this is part of a plan on googles behalf to expose the image scrapers and in some way take them out of the mix.

  • Paul

    What are you thoughts on the fact the new labeling of sponsored ads will make it easier for them to integrate paid and organic results in the main body of the SERP?