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Google Moves Ads to the Left, Clickthrough Rate Jumps 10%

Posted on Friday, August 14th, 2009 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEM

Google (very quietly) has made another change to their search results page.  And this one has nothing to do with caffeine or any other stimulant.  The paid search ads, which used to hug the right-hand scroll bar, have been moved to the left, scrunched up against the organic search results.  Google has all but eliminated the white space that divided the natural from paid listings, creating a glob of organic, sponsored, highlighted, news, video, and shopping results.

Here is a comparison of the new and old search results pages on a Firefox browser.  The first was taken in early May, the second was taken today:

PR Vacations 09-0514PR Vacations 09-0813

Along with an additional highlighted result at the top, all the Sponsored Links have shifted left.  Interestingly, the new Google SERP looks a lot more like Bing, which has a very thin margin between the natural and sponsored sites, no actual line of demarcation, and a large swath of white space on the right:

PR Vacations Bing 09-0813

Google’s change has already been reported by a few outlets.  James Carswell on the Periscopix blog discovered the new layout on Firefox 3, but not Internet Explorer 8. TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld noted that the divide between paid and organic results was “a legacy of the early days of Google when the purity of organic results was protected as much as possible from being sullied by dirty ads.”   He was able to get confirmation of the change from a Google spokesperson that the company is always “experimenting with new visual representations” and that it “shifted the ads to the left on the page as a way to help users find what they are looking for on the Internet.”

Whether your believe Google had the best interests of its users, advertisers, or shareholders in mind when they made this change, the natural hypothesis is that by moving the sponsored results closer to the center of the page, clickthrough rates will increase.

We wanted to test this theory across our client base which includes a cross-section of industries, as well as a mix of American and international advertisers.  Although Google seems to have been rolling out this new layout in stages, we’ll assume for the time being that the change was pushed broadly on Tuesday of this week.

For this analysis, we compared clickthrough rate from Tuesday – Thursday  (8/11 – 8/13) to the total clickthrough rate from the past 10 Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The initial results seem to validate our hypothesis:

Clickthrough Rate (CTR) has increased 10.3% this week compared to the past 10 weeks.  There was no material change in conversion rate.

3 days worth of data do not make a trend, but the early results look like a win-win for both Google and advertisers.  We will update this data in the coming weeks and include some additional analysis on conversions, conversion rates, and CPA based on the new layout.

What type of results are you seeing from your accounts?  And had you even noticed the new layout before reading this post or the other stories about it?

About Zack MacLean

Zack MacLean is a Search Marketing Analyst at The Search Agency. He is responsible for client account analysis, optimizing campaign performance, as well as developing extensive reporting processes. Previously, Zack was at GoWireless, Inc., a leader in the Wireless Industry with over 190 stores open in 16 states as an Operations Analyst. There, he performed financial budgeting, analysis, and forecasting for their Chief Financial Officer. Additionally, he started the Loss Prevention Department, which practices contrived are still being implemented today. Zack also has investment banking experience where he worked as an Asset Management Analyst for The Troxler Group, Inc., a partner of Lehman Brothers, which has invested in projects with terminal values in excess of $7B. Zack attended Purdue University for his undergraduate studies in Economics & Management and received his Bachelor of Science in Economics from Arizona State University. He is also a certified Google AdWords Professional and served as a comScore's Audience Measurement Advisory Group Contributor, focusing on comScore Marketer (NASDAQ: SCOR)

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29 Responses to “Google Moves Ads to the Left, Clickthrough Rate Jumps 10%”

  1. Hmmm.. very interesting.. i wonder how CTR would be affected if the ads were displayed on the far left hand side of the search results.

    Food for thought

    DragonSearch Marketing

  2. Zack MacLean says:

    It is my belief that the CTR would increase as the PPC Ads are displayed closer to the Search Box. It makes the PPC Ads jump off the page more, as most readers read left to right. Hence, as the PPC Ads are pushed to the left, a searcher will be slightly more inclined to click on the PPC Ad.

  3. Dennis says:

    Still seems like a lot of valuable real estate is not being utilized so why not have 2 columns of sponsored ad’s?

  4. Of course increase in click-through takes away from value of SEO. So the upside to advertisers comes at the expense of natural quality. Good analysis would be to find a company that has natural placement and check their impact. Have their conversions gone DOWN as the quality traffic moves to paid ads?

  5. Zack MacLean says:

    I totally agree with Dennis.

    Apart of me wants to believe Google will keep it simple and not do this, but then the question comes up, “Why not?” Google may be playing with the location of the PPC Ads, so in the future they can serve both more Text or Image Ads along the right fold. The positioning of the PPC Ads being moved to the left may be an early attempt for Google testing layout, as they look to capture more revenue.

  6. SearchTactix says:

    I agree with Zack. That was my take when I blogged about it last week. http://www.searchtactix.com/blog/2009/08/12/ad-space-for-sale/

  7. George says:

    Seems to me Google is capitalizing on impulse clicking and comparative shopping. Whether a boost in conversions will attend this boost in clicks is another story.

  8. frank lee says:

    we’ve been able to capture more qualified clicks without jeopardizing conversion rates. Seems like a win-win.

  9. Seems like it was something that was overlooked for a long time. With the price drop of larger flat panel LCD’s there is more real estate when a browser is open full screen. Smart move by Bing, good “DoFollow” by Google!

  10. VitaminSEO says:

    It will be interesting to see if the increase in paid ads CTR will cause a corresponding decrease in organic search results CTR, we’ll have to see.

  11. Brian says:

    Can you share any information on what the impression levels were for the tests you did? Was it 1000 impressions or 1,000,000 impressions or what? I think that information is necessary in determing the sample sized used and whether the 10.3% increase you are seeing is legit.

  12. frank lee says:

    I run the SEM channel here so i wanted answer your question. I can’t disclose any of the hard numbers around the analysis, but i can tell you that we ran this analysis across all of our clients. Moreover, we manage $80-$100MM/ yr in search spend so the sample size was significantly large enough to feel comfortable about the initial results. I hope you find this response satisfactory.


    • Cassidy says:

      no, but now after 5+ yrs eneirepxce with a fewI would say you can’t do it without balance. I remember Andy Grove, Kent Beck stating that anything of substance takes 25+ years. There is a difference between “a start-up” and your life’s work.When you have a young family is it possible?I still have this ahead of me in next few years. My approach at least with a start-up you have freedom – freedom to make your own future.Is this just a crock of shit?Good point – maybe – with too much luxury we start navel gazing and worry about balancing ‘pleasures’. Is this really a dilemma? – many would say WTF? P.S. I enjoy following your blog/twits, so thanks for them.

  13. nadav says:

    Hi all

    Do you know what the total click Clickthrough

    I understand that it jumped 10%…. but what the total?

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  16. remodeling says:

    Thanks ffor sharing your thoughts on adwords.


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