No doubt you’ll have heard by now that Google is trialling 4 top ad positions on some searches in the United States, and the trial looks to be in full swing.

A quick search in AdWord’s preview tool returned one of what I’ve affectionately called “the 4 tops”. (Not one of these – they’re much more fun.)

4 ppc ad slots

Why are Google doing this?

The cynical view would simply be that it’s a test to see if more ads equal more revenue. More ad positions would result in more ad clicks and therefore more revenue for Google. The cynics among us might even guess the move is in response to the Adblockalypse – the rise of ad blocking software which is undoubtedly affecting Google’s display network revenues.

But the non-cynical view is that most of the changes rolled out by Google have the user’s best interests at heart. And if I’m really honest, there are some searches where the sponsored results return better, more relevant options. Speaking from experience, any time I search with the intent to purchase or transact, I find the sponsored results much more useful. As long as Google continues to use the 4 tops when it makes sense, I, for one, will be happy.

Thinking about the future of search

I think there is one obvious takeaway, and one that’s a bit more philosophical.

The obvious takeaway is, if you’re not investing in paid search, you should. Now.

Increasing the number of ad positions above the organic results means your customers are going to have to scroll a long way down the page, past some very enticing adverts, before finding your organic result.

Granted, not all searches will return the 4 tops, and in some instances organic results are preferable. But increasingly the searches that have purchase or transactional intent return a results set heavily weighted toward sponsored results.

This segues nicely into my more philosophical takeaway…

The time has come for marketers to stop thinking about organic and paid search as different entities. Instead, we should think about what’s best for our users in terms of what kind of result makes sense for them in this context.

Let’s face it, neither organic nor paid are free. Both have a cost per click. Both require us to understand the language (keywords) of our users, creating engaging landing pages and optimising campaigns for a desired result. Both have their place in any user-centric digital marketing strategy.

Yes, tactically you need to do different things and use different skills but, at a strategic level, search should just be search.

“What do my users want to do when they enter a query into a search engine?” is the question every marketer should be asking when creating their search strategy. The answer that comes back will define how and when to use paid versus organic.

For example, if your business has a fast-moving, price-sensitive inventory, you might decide paid search gives your users the best results because your ads can react to the changes in your inventory in near real-time. If your business has a much longer sales process, where the user conducts a lot of self-paced research before purchasing, you might decide organic search will provide the best results.

What do you think?

Are you managing search with a strategy that combines organic and paid? Or do you have a separate strategy for each type of search? Please share your thoughts @rocketmill