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Initial Impact from Google’s Top-4 Desktop Change on AdWords Performance

Published: March 7, 2016

Author: Caitlin Halpert

There’s been a lot of talk about potential impact from Google’s recent change to Desktop SERPs. Now that over a week has passed since the full roll-out on February 24th, we’ve been able to review the impact of the recent changes over 100 client accounts, and I’d say they’re rather surprising. In review of our client set we’ve seen interesting results when reviewing non-brand, paid search results on desktop.
On the whole, we’ve seen almost no impact. The most interesting shift is that we’ve seen average position improve 7.2%. I suspect that this is because lower position impressions are no longer available on the first page, so it’s surprising that we did not also see a drop in impressions to match that position change.
Note: the below change figures are comparing pre- and post-data, not the transition period running from 2/18-2/24. Date ranges are 2/10-2-17 (pre); 2/18-2/23 (transition), and 2/24-3/2 (post).
Reviewing the data day-over-day, we do see that the change in average position coincides with the start of the top-4 roll-out.
On the brand side, we’ve seen a similar change in position. Here we have a 9.6% better position — but In this case, we do see that paired with a drop in impressions. We also noticed a 9.5% increase in CTR that was not seen on the non-brand side.
While overall results show a minor change in performance metrics that matter (CPCs & CVR), there were some interesting stand-out results in single accounts. Here’s a snapshot of the results from one of our eCommerce accounts where no other major changes were made during the reported time period.
So far, the results aren’t earth-shattering; the only metrics that have moved consistently across our diverse client set have been slight increases in cost (due to CPCs and/or CTR) and slightly more significant improvements in average position. It’s too early to conclude that advertisers should prepare to pay a little more for better real estate, but the data shows that as the likeliest theme to emerge. It will be interesting to see how the competitive landscape adjusts to this new reality.

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