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Question to SEO folks here - are you seeing less SEO traffic since then, or no change?
[edited by: tedster at 6:57 pm (utc) on Aug. 30, 2009]
[edit reason] added the link [/edit]
From the stats I can access right now, I see no clear impact on organic traffic. Later on I will have access to a much larger data pool. I want to compare the data for businesses that are running Adwords and also have good organic ranking on the same keywords. None of them have noticed seeing a significant change so far (and it's been two weeks) but they may not have been looking for this specific issue, either.
They wouldn't have done it if they hadn't been sure it would increase RPS and they would have tested this before they launched to ensure it was positive. So if the RPS goes up, the CTR on the organic results must have gone down.
So if the RPS goes up, the CTR on the organic results must have gone down.
That's not a certainty, hence the opening post's request for what effects on traffic we are seeing.
The layout change might generate more clicks altogether from the same SERP. The 15% increase in ad CTR might be coming from a biased sample of search terms. There's all kinds of possibilities here, so reports of actual organic traffic changes are really what this requires.
However, I am not seeing any discernable cannibalization of organic traffic. I've even isolated some accounts that rank well organically and also do paid search.
Solid data analysis is challenged in several ways:
1. This layout change only affects browser windows that are wider than 1000px, and the effect is rather negligible at a 1024px resolution. In other words, the average user is not seeing a difference, and those with wider browser windows who are seeing the difference are more likely to be power users. Because of that, they relate to the ads and organic results a bit differently.
2. Organic rankings have been showing a lot of churn this summer, so establishing a decent baseline for comparison is challenging.
3. An extra compication is that total searches have gone zooming in the past year according to Comscore [comscore.com]. So if you try to compare to the historical traffic record from last year, that's a major factor to take into account.
4. Any business whose ad has been promoted to the top of the page has no layout change. Just possibly, the new proximity of ads on the right might steal away traffic from those ads that are showing "up north".
5. The real business metric should be CPA, not CTR. For the accounts I've checked, growth in acquisitions are not keeping pace with the uptick in CTR. More people are just "kicking the tires" when they click on ads, in other words.
We're trying to come up with a more definitive sample so we can zero in more precisely on the thread's opening question about affects on organic traffic.
So far, I still see no significant loss of organic traffic or organic conversions. This could mean that the same number of searches is generating a higher number of clicks on the same SERP. It is true that in these accounts overall traffic is slightly up, and that increase is mostly from Adwords, not organic.
Very interesting, too, that you're not seeing acquisitions keep pace with the increased CTR. I haven't looked at that yet (I will, though), but it stands to reason that if the add'l ad clients are additive (meaning not taking from organic), that the CPC/CPA equilibrium the market was at prior will only end up being perturbed for the time it takes the market to realize conversions didn't keep pace.
I've no idea how long that is, but I'll bet it's more than a month and less than a year...
The layout change might generate more clicks altogether from the same SERP.
I'm not sure about this. With the analysis that you've preseneted there's no control group - so something else might have changed that we don't know about (or that we know changed but not by how much - e.g. volume of search queries) With that kind of analysis you might find correlation but not causation.
However, it seems very unlikely that there would be a stepwise jump in total search volume right on July 12. Still, you are correct to point out that my idea is only conjecture and not at all an established cause for the jump in paid CTR.
The list above is only part of the difficulty in pulling applicable data from the past month's numbers. As time allows, I'll get back to that job.
Right - so the question for this thread is if the change in layout has DECREASED organic traffic.
I haven't seen any change in Google search referrals. It's possible that some types of pages--such as e-commerce pages whose titles and snippets read like ads--might be affected more than information pages are. (The person who's looking for information on unicorns, unicorn breeding, or unicorn obedience competitions probably isn't going to be distracted by a "Unicorn Discounts" ad even if it has been moved closer to the organic results.)
1) Increased AdWords CTR: 24 (50%)
2) Increased organic CTR: 4 (8%)
3) No change in AdWords CTR: 7 (15%)
4) No change in organic CTR: 7 (15%)
5) Decreased AdWords CTR: 1 (2%)
6) Decreased organic CTR: 5 (10%)
Imran Khan - JP Morgan
Q: How much of your sequential growth was driven by Ad Quality improvement?
Jonathan Rosenberg (Google)
A: "Again, we don't tend to break that out. We had a very good quarter from Ad Quality's perspective. I can tell you the significant things that we did. The biggest things, probably in order, or close to order, were the UI tweaks that we did for results pages. We changed the maximum width, decreasing the spacing between the search results and the right hand side ads on wide screen. With that it increased the click-through rate on the right hand side ads and I think we did that some time around the second week in August.
We also did some more work on showing more goods at good ads and expanded match. But we don't give a specific sense of exactly the percentage that that resulted in. The more significant of the changes occurred in mid-August."
It's possible that the SERP in question would have receive no click at all before the layout change, but somehow I think that situation would be rare. And it's also possible that more searchers would have returned to the same SERP after their Adwords click. But the most common scenario probably includes a slight hurt on organic traffic with those other possibilities.
I just did a search on both my computers, and no matter how wide I make my browser, the ads are never more than 12-14mm further to the right than is the case when Google's organic SERP layout is at its minimum. I never measured that maximum expansion differential when the original change happened Aug 12, but if memory serves me correctly it was 20-40mm at that time.
Anyone else care to comment? If I'm right, then I'll bet Google has another good quarter...