girl-macIn February 2016, Google rolled out a significant change to AdWords: it moved ads (or sponsored listings) from the right rail of the search engine results page (SERP) to the top of the page.

According to industry sources, Google tested this format for months, and it was done in part to bring the desktop experience inline with the mobile experience.

For small industrial manufacturers and job shops who don’t run PPC campaigns and rely on organic, this change had one huge effect: it pushed organic listings further down the page.

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For months now I’ve been watching and analyzing my clients’ marketing and SEO campaigns to see if this change has impacted organic conversions. This post is a summary of what I’m seeing and learning.

Organic clicks have dropped significantly

Acquisio, an agency specializing in programmatic marketing, analyzed data from across 90,000 PPC campaigns running on its platform. (Source) The company analyzed data four weeks before the change and two weeks after. This data is from March 2016, the only current data I could find.

Acquisio’s conclusions

  • Impressions and clicks below the top 4 ads have dropped significantly
  • CPC (cost per click) for spots below the Top 4 ads has increased
  • CPC for ads in the Top 4 ads has increased by as much as 10.5%
  • CTR for ads in the Top 4 ads has increased by as much as 4.5%
  • PPC campaigns optimized with machine learning algorithms outperform all other campaigns

Translation
The data confirms what I’ve suspected: organic clickthrough rates (CTR) from the SERPs to websites have dropped. Cost per click for organic listings have increased — as has cost per click for ads in the top four positions.

Most significantly, CTR for the top four ads have increased.

And, what I found incredibly interesting, and only because I’ve read a few books about algorithms and their effect on our lives today (think Amazon and Netflix as two examples), programmatic campaigns — that is, those that run continuously and update themselves based on what the machine learns in real time — are outperforming all other campaigns. This one stat alone made me go “hmmmmmm . . . now that’s interesting.”

How the right rail change has benefited one company

I asked my colleague, Pauline Jakober, CEO of Group Twenty Seven, a PPC firm, for her expert insight into Google’s change. Although many people said that the change would drive up ad costs, her firm hasn’t seen this.

“In the cases where we are seeing higher spend, we’re also gaining more leads and sales, so it’s all relative,” she said.

She did state that some of her advertisers, those who’ve had a difficult time ranking organically due to competitive industries, have historically seen better results with PPC.

“One of our advertisers is in an extremely competitive space; his non-branded campaigns have always just about broken even and sometimes were in the red, “ Pauline explained. “However, we believe, and the client agrees, that keeping these non-branded campaigns is good because they do build brand awareness. Without these ads, he’d have no presence at all as getting organic placement is practically impossible for him.

“Once the right rail change hit, we were very worried because we religiously targeted the top right ad or top right second ad for him. As a test, we started targeting the bottom ad placement, and BOOM, we’re seeing some very encouraging numbers. In fact, non-brand is suddenly profitable. Of course there could be many other factors involved in this change, but for now we’ll take it and are considering this strategy for other clients in similar situations.”

What this all means for small industrial manufacturers and job shops

When business owners call me, they do so because they’re not getting inquiries from their existing website. Many reasons exist for lack of inquiries, but generally are due to the following:

  • Outdated website — The website was created years ago and is no longer current in terms of content, design, or coding.
  • Zero strategic tie-in to the sales process — Although owners of small manufacturing firms want inquiries, their websites haven’t been created with their sales process or business objectives in mind.
  • Lack of optimization — The website lacks any type of basic SEO, including title / meta tags.
  • Lack of any online / offline marketing strategy — The company doesn’t have any plan in place for driving prospective customers to the website. Usually, they’ve followed groupthink advice to create social media profiles — which nets them zero in the way of inquiries.

While a small manufacturer can create a website that helps rectify the first three of these pains / challenges, it’s only a first step, and a relatively small one at that.

Once the new website is live, the business owner must now “pay to play” and that means creating the marketing plan that includes tactics that drive inquiries over time — and then implementing the tactics.

The strategic marketing plan needs to include SEO — that is, working to ensure the site begins to appear for relevant searches in the organic results — but as I’ve been telling people for close to three years now, it also means depending less on “free” search and more on good old-fashioned marketing ingenuity and smarts:

  • PR
  • Tradeshows
  • E-newsletters
  • Lead generation campaigns
  • Advertising in trade publications
  • Trade organization memberships and face-to-face networking / relationship building
  • Meeting with existing clients / relationship building

In other words, small business owners need a well-thought out, well-integrated plan that builds awareness of and trust in a manufacturer’s expertise and services / products through multiple marketing channels.

And yep, one of these channels should probably include advertising in the form of pay-per-click / Google AdWords.

Why? According to Gardner’s 2015 Media Usage in Manufacturing report (source), a whopping 93% of survey respondents indicated they select the companies they recognize in the search results (paid and organic).

Impact of Google’s change on my small manufacturing clients

For clients under contract with me through my Annual Marketing Consulting Program, I provide a Marketing Metrics report every other month. This 10 – 12 page report is a thorough analysis of each client’s marketing and SEO that includes my insight on what’s working, what’s not, and why.

What I’m seeing, as I analyze data and spend hours looking at Google SERPs, is that competition is fierce — on both the SEO and PPC sides. While many marketing pundits advocate “more content,” it’s very clear to me that all this content is making it extremely difficult for smaller companies to compete in the organic search results.

I’ve learned that while a website can rank for dozens or even hundreds of keywords, the conversions for some of these keywords — even if they’re on page one and “above the fold” — may net few if any conversions for hundreds or even thousands of impressions.

Why? The sheer noise on the page.

Looking at Google’s SERP is similar to being in the cereal aisle of the grocery store: if you don’t know which cereal you want and thus can’t zero in, the choices available become overwhelming. Indeed, Google’s SERP is very much like the cereal aisle in terms of the overwhelming amount of content presented by a few very huge brands.

In his piece, “How Sixteen Brands are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results,” (source / hat tip: Rachel Cunliffe) marketer Glen Allsopp of ViperChill, shows how Hearst Media was able to get its new media site, BestProducts.com, to rank very quickly in Google’s search results.

The entire article is well-documented and quite fascinating. It’s also chilling from an SEO marketing perspective as it proves “more content!!!” isn’t viable for small manufacturing firms.

One, you have industry trade media and larger companies competing for limited SERP real estate, and two, smaller manufacturers have neither the time nor the money to throw at SEO and content marketing on the scale now required.

Concluding thoughts

Pauline Jakober summed up her insights about Google’s change this way: “Google loves history,” she said. “This means that for my PPC clients who’ve been running campaigns for a while, they didn’t see a drop when the change happened.

“But for companies considering a PPC campaign now or in the future — it’s only going to get tougher because of the competition.”

This is pretty much my conclusion regarding clients who have hired me to oversee their marketing. Those that made the investment in SEO and other marketing channels continue to see good results — but I can see going forward, I’m going to have to work a whole lot harder to maintain them.

The days of Google giving all businesses lunch in the form of free traffic are gradually coming to an end — something I predicted two and a half years ago. As I stated in 2014, relying on Google’s organic search to bring me or my clients business is becoming a risky endeavor at best.

Which is why the more I analyze data and think through what I’m seeing, the more I’m beginning to advocate my clients consider running a small PPC campaign as a way to help drive awareness and integrate with their other marketing tactics.

If you’d like to talk about how to improve your website, or hiring Huff Industrial Marketing to help you better manage your marketing and SEO efforts — and see improved results over time — book a call to discuss. Or, simply pick up the phone and call: 603-382-8093.

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a small agency that builds long-term relationships, based on mutual respect and trust, with the people who run family-owned manufacturing companies.

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