Stephen Kenwright's Search Report

Stephen Kenwright, director of search at Branded3, rounds up the big developments in SEO, PPC and display to help you plan your search strategy.

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Why we'll see more prominence for organic results (especially payday loans) in search

Ads for entire industries aren’t banned often but last week Google announced it would be banning search ads for payday loans (effective 13 July) and Bing will ban third-party tech support ads (with immediate effect).

Short-term lenders can’t circumvent Google’s ban by bidding on different terms; the search engine won’t allow advertisement of any loans requiring repayment within 60 days of issue (so no 'short-term loans' – clearly in Google’s eyes a payday loan is a payday loan). Ads for loans with more than 36 per cent APR won’t be shown in the US either.

The ban is a lifeline for struggling Wonga (which often has four other businesses showing for its brand in search ads and has apparently given up on bidding at all). Having successfully navigated its way to the top of organic results for the 'payday loans' keyword – coupled with the fact that it’s nearly impossible for legitimate payday loans companies to appear highly in organic search results with Google failing to police the organic search results – Wonga looks much more likely to survive the imminent Penguin algorithm update (effectively penalising brands using manipulative link building practices) than at least five of the other brands appearing on page one.

It still isn’t obvious when the next iteration of Penguin will arrive but with no option to replace lost 'free' traffic with AdWords it’s guaranteed to shut down several of the bigger brands permanently.

Google extends width of search results

After removing ads from the right hand side of its search results in February, Google has now extended the width of the remaining listings (both paid and organic).

Listings are now around 20 per cent wider at 600 pixels. White space between listings and knowledge panel results on the right hand side has been reduced from 65 pixels to 60 to make room.

This change is likely to push organic listings slightly further up the page, going some way to compensate for the recent addition of a fourth paid ad. The size of featured snippets has also increased by 90 pixels, making for another organic opportunity with increased prominence – a welcome change after it was found that bigger Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have been costing e-commerce brands organic traffic since August last year.

It does mean that brands are going to need new ad copy and meta data. Meta titles, for instance, are now likely to be truncated after 70 characters instead of around 55. This is especially good news for content sites who are able to get more natural headlines within the search results, but for brands it marks a real change too, increasing the emphasis on a natural writing style and presenting an opportunity for more longtail keywords in titles (or additional keywords in current titles, if you’re that way inclined).

The mobile-friendly algorithm is updated

Back in March Google announced that it would be dialling up the impact of its mobile friendly algorithm; as of 12 May the change is live.

This update arrived with much less fanfare due to an underwhelming initial rollout. Searchmetrics publishes its weekly winners and losers list on a Sunday in the US and the losses still don’t seem too dramatic, although several publishing sites seem to have big gains after losing mobile traffic only a month ago.

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The UK version of the lists will be available on Thursday, but in the meantime, the device split charts in analytics should be the first destination for brands appearing to be down on traffic this week.

Stephen Kenwright is director of search at Branded3. You can follow him on Twitter at @stekenwright

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