Part 1 of 3
Recently Google has changed the way search results on brand queries appear for many businesses. They have provided them with added real estate at the top of the SERP by listing four links to internal sections below the main result and description (interestingly it seems for everyone but Amazon & their platform users like Target). This definitely improves the searcher experience. Users can navigate more directly to relevant sections. They are more likely to click on the legitimate site rather than affiliates or made for AdSense sites. Users also get more insight into what products and services the searched on brand/site has to offer. It’s a clear win for everyone and at the heart of Google’s credo. Or is it?
This improvement (coupled with other factors enumerated below) raises some interesting questions on search, brand, spend and ROI. The main question is has Google improved its natural SERPs so much for brand queries that having an ad is no longer necessary? The answer to this question will not only interest business and advertisers, but also Google. This is because as SEMs know, most of the traffic to any site is on these brand keywords. Should ads start disappearing on them one has to think this will negatively impact Google’s revenue from AdWords. But, will it negatively effect businesses?
Nordstrom is spending lots of money each day on branded queries (I have no business relations with any examples). No doubt their impression volume is high for the Nordstrom branded AdGroup and without competition (a huge factor in this equation) Nordstrom is at the mercy of Google’s price determination for these clicks. I’m also sure from my related experience that their ad is drawing lots of clicks. But are these clicks that would have ended up in the natural result had the ad not been present?
There’s been talk for years (and even yesterday) about do you have an ad along side a high natural ranking in the SERP. I’ve heard the question on almost every SES panel I’ve been on. There was research a year or two ago that showed that it was a good idea and I think on most queries it probably is. But does it make sense for brand? Are those clicks just going to go to the natural result anyway?
The new result format takes up most of the golden triangle (seen here on the left as determined with eye-tracking) at the very top of the page. The result is also clearly aligned with the goal of the keyword. Factor into this that even in the event a competitor was allowed to bid on the brand terms it’s unlikely that they could get a quality score high enough to have top sponsor result. It makes one wonder if buying an ad here is worth it.
These questions were raised by an OTTO Digital client (a major retailer) and they are indeed very interesting questions to try and answer. Of course our job is to strategize with clients on how to get those answers. In Part 2 I’ll tell you what we are doing to understand this dynamic and in Part 3 (later this month) I’ll provide insight into the results.