How to Medal in the Sprints of Search

Finish Line photo: Natursports / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Natursports / Shutterstock.com

Spring has sprung, which means track & field season is upon us. And that makes me think of how much competing for prime positions in search results is like competing in sprinting events. So often the margins between finishers in one of the medal spots – i.e., 1st, 2nd or 3rd – are so thin that using high-speed cameras to determine outcomes is common practice.

Just as sprinters at every level train for months, pushing themselves harder every day, persisting through pain to prepare for what may be one chance at glory, pay-per-click (PPC) marketers must continually plot, plan and tweak, tweak, tweak just to win a couple more leads or sales than their nearest competitors. And let’s be real, despite all the effort and sacrifice, few searchers will notice anything beyond those top three spots. Who remembers who came in 8th, 6th or 5th in a sprint? Even 4th place is an iffy proposition.

This reality is more challenging than ever for digital marketers this season as Google recently announced changes to its Search Engine Results Page (SERP) layout. Google has added one more paid search result at the top, bringing the total to a maximum of four while eliminating the side ad positions. The new SERP layout also has three ads at the bottom, but much like the sprinters who finish 5th through 7th, these ads will not gain the recognition of the top spots.

This significant change means there is now 30% less advertising opportunity on the page – from a maximum of 11 to a maximum of 7 – which makes winning one of those places on top about as rigorous for marketers as placing in a sprint race.

These changes also have another effect: They continue Google’s concentration on larger advertisers with significant budgets, as those are the ones who are in the best position to bid on coveted top positions. Small and mid-sizes businesses (SMBS) are less likely to be able to compete for those top spots — just as this summer in Rio Olympic sprinters from smaller countries will have trouble competing with the Big 3 powerhouse nations: U.S., China and Russia.

However, even if you are a “small nation” advertiser, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of “medaling” in the sprint events like PPC and click-through rates (CTR). We will cover those in an upcoming series of posts, starting with a look at how to improve your strategy and targeting.

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