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:
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:
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?