Google’s New SERP Demands a Not-So-New Strategy

Carnegie Higher Ed Mar 10, 2016 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

In the wake of Google’s SERP (search engine results page) update last month, which effectively rids the page of its right rail paid search results and decreases the number of available first page ad positions, advertisers scrambled to predict its impact on the future of SEM. While some forecasted rising CPCs, others fixated on the implications for organic search and SEO. But with this new reality of seven first page ad positions, we’re betting on the basics.

There’s no denying that advertisers will need to adapt their SEM strategies as a result of Google’s SERP updates, but there’s one thing we know with certainty—we’re not starting from scratch. So how do we create a successful, airtight paid search strategy that works with Google’s SERP update? We remain diligent and remember what we already know.

At the very root of it all, we know our audiences. We look at recruitment and enrollment goals, and we make a plan based on the audiences we know and what our digital strategies allow us to learn about them. Our goal is still to reach our target audience with precisely what will prompt them to engage with us—and Google’s SERP update actually gives us better odds of doing this, especially in competitive search queries, because with this new SERP update comes an opportunity in the form of an additional above-the-fold ad position. That’s right, we’ve gained an extra top ad position for high-volume search queries, making more than half of the available ad positions top-of-page, which offers much more relevant information to users and, in turn, yields more clicks. This promises campaigns increased opportunity for higher engagement rates and qualified leads.

We’ve always known that ad extensions are crucial to PPC performance too. But with the anticipation of more advertisers vying for the top four ad positions and the expected impact of extensions and ad formats on Ad Rank, we no longer consider a carefully optimized, relevant ad extension plan simply as an opportunity to yield higher engagement but rather as a necessity to achieve a top ad placement and appear above organic search results.

With relevancy top-of-mind, let us not forget about the very foundation of every PPC strategy: keywords. For advertisers, focusing on our top-performing keywords and a diligent bidding strategy will allow us to carefully navigate any ups and downs that come as a result of Google’s SERP update. In short, we’re not jumping the gun on bids. While some marketers might increase their max CPC bids in response to this new update, as always, we use our data to inform bids on keywords. And now more than ever, that performance data will dictate bids for high search volume queries, as well as historically top-performing keywords.

In the new world of paid search, it’s more complex and it’s more interesting. While campaigns will no longer reap the less measurable benefits of free impressions from right rail results, we’ve gained significant opportunity where it counts: in top-of-page ad positions designed to reach qualified users. While advertisers and users navigate this new reality, we’re standing by the basics that have long been trusted to inform the future.

Follow Gabrielle on twitter, @gabconnelly

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