Google’s PPC Shift: How Ads for “Highly Commercial Queries” Impact Organic Results

Digital Marketing is never boring. And we can be one dramatic bunch when Google makes a big algorithm or layout change. From Penguin & Panda to Mobilegeddon & RankBrain, we have been convinced that the end of SEO is near for years.

Let’s re-wind to earlier this year:

In February 2016, Google announced that they would cease to display ads on the right hand side of the SERPs to make room for Product Listing Ads and ads in the Knowledge Panel. And in lieu of the right handed ads, we now have ads at both the top and the bottom of the SERPs. This creates a similar vertical experience found on mobile devices and is a trend that most likely will continue as Google pushes for a more consistent experience across all devices.

This image illustrates the changes we are describing:


While on the surface, this isn’t very worrisome, we SEO’s focus on delivering organic traffic for our clients and need to be attuned to any potential consequences. Now that the update happened a few months ago, we can assess the full impact.

# of Ads in Your Results Queries

Interestingly, our time wading through the SERPs have, indeed, yielded some insights on the situation. Google itself has mentioned that Highly Commercial Queries will have more ads at the top and they reflect an intent to purchase on the part of the user.

But what does that mean as online marketers? Is there a rule of thumb as to how Google will categorize the keywords that you have targeted or may choose to target in the near-future?

Lucky for you, we have a little exercise we’ve conducted to find a correlation between # of Ads appearing at the top of our SERP and data that Google provides in their Free Keyword Planner.

We had an inkling that Highly Commercial Queries would be have common elements such as: Higher Suggested CPC Bid Price, a Higher Competitiveness Score or Average Monthly Search Volume. We counted the number of ads appearing at the top of the page and found a relationship between the number of ads displayed on the SERP layout and the Competitiveness of the Keyword in Google Keyword Planner.

Before we began, we found this article which mentioned “buzz” words may indicate that a searcher’s intent is purchase-focused. These “buzz” words are: free, download, buy, coupon, discount, deal, shipping, review, best, cheap, affordable or the mention of a specific brand. Armed with a new set of purchasing “buzz” words, we waded into the Keyword Planner and the SERPs.


  1. The Competitiveness of a keyword was directly related to the number of ads displayed in the SERPs.

    *It should be noted for the purposes of this study PLAs were counted as “1” ad in the SERPs*
    *It should be noted for the purposes of this study PLAs were counted as “1” ad in the SERPs*
  2. There was no significant relationship between Monthly Search Volume and Competitiveness. Which tells us, regardless of the number of searches a keyword may have, it will not automatically drive up the competitiveness of the keyword.
  3. We found a slight relationship between the Suggested Bid Price in Google Keyword Planner and the Competitiveness of the Keyword. This makes sense, because there is more demand for a Highly Competitive Keyword and it drives the price of the bid up.
  4. Remember those “buzz” words that indicated to Google that our searcher was intent on purchasing? Those keywords which contained words like buy, coupon and shipping were found to increase the competitiveness
  5. On the matter of “buzz” keywords, our search terms with “buzz” keywords contained Product Listing ads in addition to Paid Advertising Results 39% of the time, versus only 15% of the time for our general search terms. Essentially these “buzz” words created a SERP layout result that had a higher number of ads, as well as generating a Product Ad Listing more than twice as often.
  6. Another fascinating find, was that any mention of a Major Metropolitan City in the keyword would create a local pack, which is great for local businesses. But it would frequently produce 4 Paid Ads, despite having lower competition values. This created a confounding effect on the number of ads versus the competition values, and were omitted for the sake of this study. Again, this is sensible, given that there will be more Paid Marketers bidding on those keywords, without the whole internet driving the Competitiveness up.

Take Away:

There are many implications to this data, whether you are a small business owner or an Organic Search Specialist. Yes, it appears that Google is giving PPC more precedence but when the rules change, smart marketers can adapt.


  • “Buzz” words such as: Buy, Free, Discount, Download and Review increase the competition score by 50%. This stark revelation is bound to have an impact on keyword research because we do not want to be buried under paid advertisers and Product Listing Ads. If you’d like to target those terms, be aware that you will be competing with many Paid Ads at the top of the page.
  • Keywords with mentions of Metropolitan areas, produce a higher number of paid ads. If you are prepared to use Metropolitan Descriptors, be aware that there will be more ads, face a higher bidding price and your Organic results will be further down the page.
  • So, on average, the more Competitive your keyword is, the more likely it is that a higher number Paid Advertisers will be above your Organic Results. Using the Keyword Planner tool can provide quick at-a-glance insight to the terms you are targeting. We’d also recommend checking out Moz’s new Keyword Explorer, there’s some great take-aways from there SERP analysis.
  • A great way to the top of the page for brick and mortar businesses is the Local Pack. If you have your local citations created and have been working diligently to get links from related businesses in your immediate area, the local pack is a huge benefit in your Organic SERPs position.
  • Similarly, to the Local Pack, Knowledge Boxes are just below the Paid Ads. So if you can provide an answer to questions that searchers are posing to the engine- do it and show the community just how bright you are!


If you haven’t gotten into PPC, now is the time. This shift in focus places a higher precedence on Paid Ads and now there is more real estate to advertise on the first page.

We love it when the data speaks to us like this and, well, it’s because it’s what we do. If you have questions on this study, getting included in Knowledge Boxes, Local Packs or want to take a dive into Organic Search with us, please contact us today.