The Death of 10 Blue Links

With the door officially closed on 2013, we pause to look back at a year where saw many changes in the Google search landscape.  As noted in a previous post, the Knowledge Graph, Local Carousel, and the more recent algorithm change Hummingbird all brought large changes to brand advertisers.

In 2013 Product Listing Ads (PLAs) became common place and began cannibalizing click share from traditional text ads. But the biggest change for advertisers came around the mid-year point with the upgrade to Google’s Enhanced Campaigns (previously thought to be the AdWords Apocalypse). This overhaul of a decade old system bestowed advertisers more rich text ad formats, with pictures, larger ad copy, more sitelinks and ad extensions options than we had ever seen.

For advertisers this has brought both a wealth of new challenges along with new opportunities, and caused search marketers to pause and ask:  What is your branded keyword strategy? What is your conquesting keyword strategy? Is tablet truly a unique experience? What is your generic mid and top of funnel keywords strategy? How will you take advantage of the newest ad formats, attracting click share and describing your value proposition in an ever more dynamic and competitive marketplace?

Do you remember what a Google Search Results Page (GSERP) looked like just a few years ago, circa 2010?  Crisp, clean with 10 blue links (organic) followed by 10 or less paid search blue links. That was it!


As we look to the present day GSERP we’d be understating the fact that the page has evolved tremendously. To use a common example let’s pause to check on a familiar “starbucks” query:

google serp starbucks

A careful dissection of this page allows you to see what Google has been planning for the brand advertiser:

  1. Very large text ad placement. Complete with extended sitelink descriptions, map to the closest coffee shop and a statement about their 2.2 million G+ followers. This larger real estate for the text ad delivers more paid clicks than ever before.
  2. A huge company card coming from their “knowledge graph.”  This brings in all sorts of disparate data, including a less promotional Wikipedia description of the company, stock price, founders’ data and recent blog posts. It all links up with Google’s own G+ platform, delivering a seamless user experience between the Starbucks G+ page and the search results page.
  3. Competitive search queries. This is one of the most interesting additions because what Google has done is said that it is important to show your competitors on a page where they are not actually looking for your competitors. Does this in itself become a self-serving prophecy? What it does do is create more brand-based queries for all of the major brands in a particular category, driving more query growth on Google than any other engine.

So we have the new layout for brand advertisers, which we can without a doubt say has effectively killed the old search results page and the traditional ten blue links. Additionally we see Google testing out the new visual brand (Banner) ads starting in November.  The wealth of information now available gives users many more options to interact with both your paid and earned content, as well as potentially the content of your competitors. So with all of these changes heading into 2014, how will you capitalize?

Actionable insights:

    • Opt in to larger sitelinks, image ads and other ad extensions to boost your ad rank. Without them your rank may fall and your campaigns will generate a lower CTR, effectively hurting your quality score which affects your ad rank. (Can you see the vicious cycle here?)
    • Make sure you are writing your ad copy for a variety of ad formats (desktop, mobile), as well as where the keyword sits within the user’s purchase funnel behavior. Tailor those ads to be specific.
    • Review your search query reports and look for an uptick in comparison queries. Due to the knowledge graph and Google promoting other brands this could lead to an increase in brand or product comparisons.
    • Use the added Google insights to understand and cross check performance of your campaigns. How much mobile search revenue is being contributed based on your search campaigns? Does the estimate from Google match what your own business intelligence has told you? How is both SEO and PPC traffic correlating, and are you spending enough on your brand terms? The advances insights sections will help you to track and better budget.
    • Be ready for more Google product integration in 2014, including G+.  Link up and optimize your G+ page with fresh content to support the marketing efforts there.
    • And finally be ready for Voice Search – aka Conversational Search. This means updating your keyword lists, especially to match to longer natural language queries from users on the go – the keystone of the Hummingbird update back in September.