Google caused a lot of stir last week when it was announced that it would be changing the appearance of the SERP for its desktop search. The ads displayed down the right-hand side of the desktop page would be removed to bring it in line with the mobile search results. Additionally, four text ads would now be above the organic results at the top of the page in the case of ‘highly commercial queries’. Overall this means that the maximum number of text ads displayed has fallen from 11 to 7 albeit the 4th ad now occupying a more lucrative spot.

Predicted consequences of Google’s SERP update

The update took place on 23rd February and was widely predicted to have profound changes to SEA practices. The three main assertions can be summarised as follows:

  • First and foremost, competition will increase for ranking positions 1-4, these becoming the all-or-nothing positions. As a result, average cost per click (CPC) is expected to increase
  • Pages that rank outside of the top 4 can expect to see a sharp decrease in click-through-rate (CTR)
  • As the number of overall possible ads per page decreases and competition increases, the average position of an ad is expected to fall if CPC is not adapted

Google’s SERP Update: The results so far

It has now been over a week since Google changed the way in which the SERP is displayed. Using data collected from our own work here with Google AdWords, we can now review the effects of the changes over the past week in the context of the past month and can evaluate to what extent, if any, the predicted changes have occurred.



From the results shown above, the expected hike in average CPC has not yet occurred. In general, the prices have not shown great fluctuations day by day and there is no general trend towards higher CPCs since the change. Despite the overall reduction then from 11 to 7 ads, this does not seem to have affected the auction prices. These results seem to confirm what Googler Matt Lawson has asserted, that based on Google’s experiments, there should be no discernible rise in CPC pricing.



Despite the addition of the 4th ad above the organic search results in the SERP, the average CTR for the three cases in our results has not shown signs of decreasing. What can be taken from the data so far is a very stable continuation of the CTR or even a slight increase. Whilst some ads may have been pushed further down the results or off the page, this may well have been offset by ads ranking in the newly included ‘highly commercial queries’ 4th position as well the surprisingly strong performance of position 3.


ARP average position ranking

Consistent with our other results, the ranking position has so far not been affected negatively. Thus far any changes appear to have had a positive effect on the overall average ranking positions for our campaigns. Whilst this is an aggregated average, having a 4th ranking position above the organic results could in fact offer similar opportunities for ranking well, if you are able to achieve these positions.


Using the data we were able to obtain from the past week, we can draw some first conclusions on the effects of Google’s SERP update to Google AdWords. As of yet it would appear that any effects to the CPC, CTR and ranking position are negligible. With more data and over a longer period of time, the full ramifications of these changes will become clear. For now it is safe to say there is no need to panic as the effect has not been as dramatic as some predicted. For more updates be sure to check back on the OMMAX blog.