On February 22nd, Google rolled out one of the biggest changes to its search engine results page (SERP) by taking out right-side ads and adding an extra 4th position above the proverbial fold line and three ads at the bottom of the page after the organic search results. This was a major change in higher education PPC. With the exception of Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and Knowledge Panel Ads, the right side of the SERP will be completely void of text ads, which lends well to e-commerce businesses since it gives them exclusive access to the now hands-off real estate.
To the majority of the PPC community, this update cued the onslaught of widespread panic with the speculation of higher CPCs, increased competition, and the squeezing out of SMBs to companies with bigger advertising budgets. So what will happen to visibility? How much more budget will be needed to stay above the fold? CTR? Conversion Rate? More importantly to us, what does this mean for higher education digital marketers and how will this affect our programs’ performance?
Now that it’s two months past, we finally have some well formulated insights from our internal data and higher education PPC, and they quickly put to rest the reverberating voices of panic and anxiety. We can wipe the sweat from our brows because this change actually works in our favor!
Let’s take a deeper dive:
Parameters of our analysis:
- Data acquired are from 12/22-2/22 vs. 2/23-4/22
- Google Search Network only
- Includes 19 programs
Before the update, 64% of our ads were amongst the top 3 positions, and 36% were right side ads with no more than 15% going past the 4th position. After the update with the addition of one more top position, the number of our ads that are now above the fold rose to 83%. What’s interesting to note here is that the update essentially moved up 19% of our right-side ads to the top 4th position since most of them were previously wavering before and after the fold line, averaging between the 3rd and 4th positions. The update was the extra push we needed to convert more of our ads to the top positions without actually having to increase bids by much at all.
Now you’re probably thinking that regardless of 19% of our ads moving up to the top 4 positions, performance will still suffer since 17% of our ads are now pushed to the bottom where visibility is less than that of being on the right side. While you and most marketers are right to think that, most of our ads past the 4th position weren’t doing as well to begin with and now that more of them are in the coveted top positions, we reap the extra benefits that outweigh the negatives.
Let’s take a more granular look at each of our programs’ performance and spend metrics to support my previous statements:
Comparing performance metrics from two months before and after the update, our CTR rose by 6.59% with a 4.70% decrease in CPC. This comes as no surprise since right side ads historically did not perform as well as our top placing ads. In marketing higher education, some of our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) include Cost-Per-Lead (CPL) and the Conversion Rate (CVR). As you can see across the board, our KPIs have improved with a 3.3% decrease in CPL and a 2.3% increase in CVR. Again, with the higher average positions and increased visibility on the SERP, it comes to no surprise that our spend metrics have also improved. Not to mention that our quality scores will most likely increase in the long-run.
It would be naive to think that this update had nothing to do with Google’s bottom line, but whichever way you slice it, it’s looking to be beneficial for many other PPC marketers as well as for Circa Interactive here on the higher education side. With an increased emphasis on Highly Commercial Queries, newly formatted ad extensions, and a less cluttered SERP, it’s a win-win for advertisers and search users alike.
Helen Koh recently joined the Circa team bringing digital marketing competencies that include creating and managing PPC campaigns for optimal ROI, experience with various SEM analytical tools, and creative processes of pursuing marketing avenues within higher education. She is currently a senior at University of California at San Diego with business consulting and marketing experience from multiple on-campus projects and organizations.