Fancy hardware and ‘moonshots’ are all very well but it’s the seemingly small innovations that Google makes to its search results which are really exciting.

2016 has seen lots, especially on the mobile side, and this is a look at the impact of some of the tiny yet mighty updates Google has made this year. 

You may or may not have noticed them but they’ve changed how marketers, brands and ultimately users interact with the search giant.

For example, earlier this year Google veered course from how it has historically served desktop ads. Right-hand ads were removed and a fourth ad slot was added above the organic search results.

This change aligned mobile and desktop search results, and was widely touted as Google’s acknowledgement that mobile search — not desktop — is the key to the company’s continued growth and success. In fact, 2016 was the first time we noticed mobile ad spend through our platform outstrip that on desktop.

 

By analysing our Marin Global Online Advertising Index, which tracks over $8bn of global ad spend, we saw little change in competition for positions one to three, as cost per clicks (CPCs) on these top positions declined marginally for the period.

The slight dip in CPCs could be attributed to the increase in the likelihood that someone will click on these top positions without the distraction of ads on the right rail. Meanwhile, click-through rates (CTRs) for positions one and two were largely flat, while the CTR for three and four increased by a huge 10% and 13%, respectively.

While the removal of the right-hand ad has prompted a noticeable shift in the way consumers interact with adverts, especially those with a strong product-market fit, the shift in the colour of ad text from yellow to a more muted green slipped under most people’s radar.

At the time, Google said the change of colour did not alter CTRs, however an experiment over the summer by Mark Irvine, a senior data scientist at WordStream, proved that ads with the new green text were experiencing a much better click through rate.

The green ads are more subtle; part of Google’s on-going efforts to make the search-to-click journey as smooth as possible. Probably its most successful attempt at this in 2016 has been Accelerated Mobile Pages.

There are now 600m AMP on 700,000 domains and a whole roster of media publications and retailers – from the Washington Post to eBay - have seen an increase in the number of people visiting their sites via mobile devices.

Just two weeks after AMP's anniversary, Google has announced its plans to go further and actually start to index search results for mobile separately from desktop, making the mobile experience super fast for users.

It makes absolute sense to show mobile users tailored results and if it speeds load time up again as well then all the better for brands; recent research reveals 53% of consumers will choose to never visit an ecommerce page again if the page loads slowly the first time on their mobile device.

 

And the future is mobile-first too. Google plans to soon introduce an extension which will allow consumers to text brands through ads in search results pages. This could be a real win-win for both consumers and brands.

The option to text is bound to be popular with people who increasingly prefer to auto-communicate with companies to book hotel rooms, dentist appointments and even flights.

While it does open up another channel through which brands will need to manage communication, it also means more consumers are likely to notice and click on the ads the function is attached to. Apparently Auto General has already been trialling the function and seen a huge 80% increase in conversions.

Finally, 2016 was the first year we saw ad spend on mobile outstrip that on desktop. It was a great moment because it demonstrated that brands were starting to mirror their spend to how consumer’s are actually behaving.

Couple this shift in priority with the innovations in the mobile space by Google and the rocky terrain of the customer journey starts to look a bit more traversable. 

For more on this topic, check out these posts:

Tom Bailey

Published 9 December, 2016 by Tom Bailey

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