Impact Organic Search?

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How Does the Google 4-Pack

Impact Organic Search?

By Harrison DeSantis, SEO Account Manager


Last month, Google announced the 4-Pack search ads on desktop for

“highly commercial queries.”

was impacted, we launched an investigation to evaluate changes in

user behavior.

OUR METHODOLOGY

To test out the effects of the new “4-Pack” (as we’ll refer to it for the

rest of this article), we gathered organic query data from 6 clients to

see whether their listings were influenced. These clients vary from

strictly online ecommerce services to brick & mortar retail chains.

To see how 4-Packs changed user behavior, we compared two equal

time ranges: one range representing the SERP before the 4-Pack

rollout, and the other representing the SERP with the 4-Packs. Since

the announcement and official rollout of the 4-Pack didn’t happen until

February 19th, we picked the following ranges:

• BEFORE: FEBRUARY 1-14

• AFTER: MARCH 1 – 14

We split all queries for these two ranges into 10 groups based on their

average Google ranking (Positions 1-10). We removed all branded

searches and compared total click-through rate per ranking to see how

each position’s performance changed. Note: These results are

desktop only.

Although this update has nothing to do with Google’s organic algorithm,

we suspected that organic queries would lose visibility whenever

that paid 4-Pack appeared. To find out just how much organic search

Here’s what we found.

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RANKINGS WERE UNAFFECTED

We thought this would be the case, but we wanted to make it official:

Organic rankings were hardly affected by the paid ad 4-Packs. To

confirm our suspicion, we pulled rankings performance on 85 queries

we verified were serving 4-Packs. When aggregating these queries per

client, we found that none of the positions fluctuated greater than 0.7

between the two time periods. Better yet, three clients actually saw

between a 0.1 and 0.4 position improvement from February to March.

POSITION 1 CTR IMPROVED BY 2%

When we examined changes against the whole search query report,

their deltas generally trended in the same direction. Aside from one

client, all other domains saw less than a 0.2 position difference across

the two time periods.

This was the biggest surprise of all. Across these six clients, there were

about ~900 queries per time period where the domain had an average

position of 1.49 or better. When comparing the month-over-month CTR

for those 900 or so queries, we found that CTR increased by +2.06%

points after the 4-Pack was rolled out.

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When we separated these CTRs by client, we found this trend was also

consistent on an individual basis. Five of the six accounts we looked at

saw a Position 1 CTR improvement from February.

FIRST-RANKED LISTINGS WITH GOOGLE INFO GRAPHS BENEFIT MOST

Two of the examined clients have a proclivity to attract both 4-Packs

and another interactive field such as Google Maps and form-fills. These

fields push the first organic listing well below the fold. For example, see

the screenshot of the query “cheap flights to vegas” to the right. After

the 4-Pack, Google Flights populates:

Since the user now has to scroll down even farther just to see the

first organic result, we expected a drop in CTR for both of these

clients. However, they actually saw some of the biggest improvements

with Position 1 CTRs increasing by +5.98% and +1.70%.

Google 4-Pack Impact

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CTR FOR POSITIONS 2-6 MARGINALLY DECREASED

BOTTOM PAGE RESULTS IMPROVED MINIMALLY

While Position 1 reaped some benefits from the 4-Pack, Positions

2-6 saw slight but consistent CTR decreases. Listings that averaged

between position 2 and 6 lost -0.63% CTR from February. Strangely

enough, the individual positions that saw the biggest declines were

Position 2 (-1.01%) and Position 5 (-1.37%). In this range, most

positions saw a drop in CTR except for Position 3, which gained just

+0.43% points. Overall, we’re seeing decreased activity in middlepage

positions, even though they are now free of side ads that would

normally compete for those clicks.

You heard right, folks. Listings that ranked 7-10 saw an overall +0.16%

point CTR improvement. As a matter of fact, every single individual

ranking between 7 and 10 saw a CTR improvement with the exception

of position 9, which saw a slight -0.10% point decrease.

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CONCLUSION

Although this is just a small sample between a few clients, our

evidence points to the following conclusions:

1. Organic rankings are mostly unaffected by the 4-pack

2. 1st-ranked listings have higher click-through odds despite more

competition from paid ads above the fold

3. 2nd-ranked and middle-page listings have lower click-through

odds despite having less competition from paid ads

¡ For this portion of the study, we compared searches with at least 500 impressions to

capture the largest-impact rankings.

¡¡ Any query averaging higher than a 1.50 ranking actually appears in position 2 more often

than position 1. To account for this, we assigned any query averaging between 1.50 and

2.49 as position 2, between 2.50 and 3.49 as position 3, and so on.

¡¡¡ Above-the-fold line as seen on a 1366 x 768 resolution screen with a maximized browser

window.

4. Bottom page listings have slightly higher click-through odds

THE OUTCOME FOR SEO

We expected a drop in CTR on Position 1 queries, but instead the

opposite happened. The changes in SERP user behavior have been

interesting but not game-changing. We’ll want to continue monitoring

our monthly CTRs as well as our year-over-year organic traffic, but the

4-Pack hasn’t eroded organic click volume as much as we expected. At

least not yet.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Harrison DeSantis is an SEO Account Manager at 3Q Digital. He

joined 3Q in February 2015 with an eclectic background in content

writing, law, and teaching. Harrison graduated from the University

of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in English. In his spare

time, Harrison enjoys nerding out on music and traveling.

ABOUT 3Q DIGITAL

3Q Digital, a Harte Hanks company, provides strategic growth

consulting and execution across six growth drivers: customer

journey, user experience, device strategy, analytics, technology,

and growth platforms. The company offers best-in-class services

in SEM, SEO, display, social advertising, mobile, video, creative,

and analytics. 3Q Digital works with some of today’s fastestgrowing

clients, including Square, RelaxTheBack, SurveyMonkey,

The RealReal, and Eventbrite.

3Q Digital is based in Silicon Valley and has offices in San

Francisco, Chicago, New York, San Diego, Oakland, Austin, and

Burlington, VT.

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