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Google Ads change the definition of ‘Top Ads’

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This week, advertisers started to receive communications from Google Ads about updates to Search Ads Ad Metric(s) definitions, including Top Ads. This was later confirmed by Ginny Marvin, Ads Product Liaison at Google. So what has changed and what does this mean for you?

What has changed to the definition of Top Ads in Google Ads?

Advertisers started to receive emails stating that there had been changes made to Search Ads metrics, in particular in relation to ‘Top Ads‘. Google said, “We’re updating our definitions related to top ads: top ads can appear above organic results and can also appear below organic results for certain queries.”

Here is an example of a result I posted in X recently:

Ginny Marvin posted on LinkedIn this week the news about the update:

Similarly, on Twitter the conversation continued:

What seems to be consistent with the comments is the confusion around the meaning of having a ‘Top Ads’ in itself now. 

Before, you could be confident that if your ad was at the top (or absolute top) of the search engine results page, then you could assume that your ad was at the top of the search results. 

Now, ‘Top Ads’ refers to the fact that your ads are one of the top ads in the ads auction, not necessarily always at the top of the search engine results page.

Ginny Marvin was quite clear in her responses that the majority of the time ads will appear at the top of the search engine results page. However, there will be occasions that this would not be true, hence why the definition needed to be updated.  

Why has the definition of Top Ads in Google Ads changed?

The search engine results page is changing, and the definition was therefore outdated

Google is always evolving how the search engine results page looks. As a result, it needs to make sure that the definition for its metrics therefore reflect this. Google have obviously seen that for some queries, it makes sense for ads to appear below organic results. Remember, they wouldn’t do anything that would negatively affect their ad business. 

With so much hubbub around how Google Search has gotten worse over the years, is this Google's way of getting more users to click on more ads?

As mentioned, Google wouldn’t to anything to damage their ad business. So the a logical reason for doing this is that their experiments have shown success either in the short or long term. We know that there has been a lot of noise about the fact that many users feel as though Google has gotten a lot worse over the years. Heck, this is why some are even turning to ChatGPT to find the answers they need. So to protect ad revenue for selected queries, have they found a sweet spot where they can get more users to click on ads? Could this be a way for Google to be confident that they can capture more ad revenue by allocating a certain % of ads to serve within the results, thereby making ads look more organic?

Focus on privacy has led to increased scepticism of how search engines serve ads. Google needs to find new ways for users to click on ads.

Similarly to the above, the increased spotlight on privacy and ad blockers has led to users being more conscious than ever about how their data is being used. As a result, you could argue that this had led to a scepticism for ad placements and therefore users are more conscious than ever about ads. Again, could his have led to Google’s decision to move ads below organic?

Could this be to prepare for more to come with the Search Generative Experience (SGE)?

We know that Google is experimenting with how the new Search Generative Experience (SGE) will work with the existing Google Search results pages and ads (reported by BBC for the UK). This change in definition feels like a preparation for this new reality. As Google move at speed to understand what the new Google Search should look like, they can no longer be confident that your text ads will appear at the top of any results (either Organic or Generative). Google will continue to experiment as they learn about what works in the new generative results, so they need to make sure that advertisers are clear that ‘Top Ads’ no longer mean that your ads are at the top of the search results pages.  

What does the new definition of Top Ads in Google Ads mean for you?

Don't panic. Read up on the changed definitions.

For now, there isn’t too much to action. As outlined, it won’t affect the majority of your traffic for now. If you haven’t already, it’s worth reading how this definition change has affected the metrics and segments

Google are clear this is part of the search results evolution. What we know is that this won't be the only change we can expect to see

It’s not the end. Google will continue to evolve how the search results look. Ginny Marvin said this herself in her replies.

Initially, this change in definition might have been a bit underwhelming for some. But when you look into it a bit deeper, you can see that it can give an indication as to what we can expect to see as the search results page continues to evolve. 

Dan Roberts
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