Hopefully, you understand the importance of your insurance website appearing in search results. You might also know how difficult a feat that can be.
The competition is through the roof for many insurance search terms. And, it's not just from the major carriers, but also from your fellow small agencies.
On top of all that, search engines can make things even tougher by shaking up their ranking factors or search result layouts.
Well, guess what? Google did it again.
Google has done away with search ads in the right sidebar of their results pages. It has also added a fourth ad at the top of the page for searches it considers to be highly commercial.
Search Engine Land has a list of examples of these searches. Car insurance is on the list.
Getting your insurance website to show up in search results just got a lot tougher.
Why Is Google Making These Changes?
Google has gone all-in on mobile.
Users perform more searches on smartphones than desktop computers. Google knows this. So, it is trying to make the look and functionality of mobile search results consistent across all devices.
The focus change to mobile started with last year's shakeup of the local search results on desktop browsers. This shakeup changed the number of local listings on desktop browsers from seven to three, which matched the existing mobile layout for that section.
Now, Google is removing ads from the sidebar because it doesn't exist on mobile search.
Here's how the search results now look for the term home insurance, on both desktop and mobile. Notice how similar the layouts are. (Desktop on left, mobile on right - click thumbnail for larger version)
To clarify, Google will still show product ads and occasional knowledge graph panels in the sidebar on desktop searches for now. But, these are not common features on results pages for high-volume insurance-based searches.
Why Four Ads on Top?
Google is balancing its mission of providing relevant search results with its need to earn money from those searches.
It has invested serious time and effort in displaying relevant search ads wherever possible. But, the removal of sidebar ads throws a serious wrench into those plans.
Some search result pages that previously had as many as 11 ads on them could now see as few as six due to the new layout.
By adding a fourth ad at the top of the results page, Google can salvage one of those search ads. Since people who use these ads are more purchase-oriented, they're more likely to click on the ads, which is more revenue.
What Does This Mean for Insurance Agencies?
If your agency is targeting high-volume keywords, these changes are bad news.
For agencies focusing on SEO, the new layout makes it harder for consumers to see their listings. This is true even if your insurance website shows up on the first page of results for a highly commercial keyword.
The four search ads and the local results section take up the entire top of the page. Consumers will have to scroll down to see the first search result. This means your click-through rate will drop if people don't scroll down to the organic results.
For agencies focusing on paid search, this change reduces the number of first page slots. Even with four ads at the top of the page, you will have to bid higher to show up where consumers can see ads without scrolling.
How Can You Combat This Change?
Stop focusing on high-volume keywords.
There was a time when Google looked out for small businesses on the most competitive search terms. But with the company's pursuit of mobile design, that time has passed.
It's not worth it to put your eggs in one basket and only target terms like Dallas car insurance or Houston home insurance anymore. You will continue to see diminishing return on these keywords.
Instead, focus on more specific terms. Some examples include general liability insurance policy options or Is liability auto insurance required in Texas?
Sure, fewer people search for these terms. But the ones who do will see your website listing or ad a lot more easily. By providing them with the specific information they're looking for, these consumers are much more likely to convert.
Treat your insurance agency website and blog as a resource center for specific terms. Provide answers to relevant questions. Educate. Inform. Assist.
This is the new way your agency can win at search visibility.
Got a question about how the new Google layout will affect your agency's search visibility efforts? Leave it in the comments.