Deep dive into the elements of Google’s SERP: Sponsored Text listings

These results are taken from Mediative’s latest research “Google’s Evolving Results Pages and The Impact on Your Business”.  For more background as to the purpose behind the study and methodology, download the full study, or read the first blog post in this series.

Mediative’s 2014 Google SERP research has shown that top sponsored paid ads have stood the test of time, with very little change in click-through-rates since the original research back in 2005 – proving the ability of paid search to capture not only attention, but also traffic.

CTR sponsored ads

In the more recent study, the best performing paid ads were:

  • Paid ads for branded searches.
  • Paid ads for a non-branded search that exactly met the searcher’s intent.
  • Paid ads combined with an organic listing for a non-branded search.

What has changed significantly since 2005 is the attention and clicks captured by the right rail sponsored listings. This is likely as a result of searchers’ tendencies, influenced by mobile, to search more vertically than horizontally.


Google SERP Sponsored Text Listings Golden triangle


Google SERP Sponsored 2014
Google SERP CTR 2005 to 2014

Paid ads for branded searches

Paid ads are an effective way of promoting brand lift, and earning more traffic to your website.

In our study, we asked participants to “Imagine that you want to learn to speak German. You’ve heard about “Rosetta Stone” software. Use Google to find the Rosetta Stone website.” Rosetta Stone has bid on branded keywords to appear visible in both the sponsored listings and the organic listings.

The sponsored ad captured 16% of the total time spent on the page, and 38.5% of page clicks.

Google Sponsored Text Listings Paid Ads

Note: This study was conducted just prior to Google’s changes to its sponsored ad format, however, we believe the results still to be representative of the new format of listing.

You might wonder if the top organic listing would still get the same number of clicks if the paid ad was not there (cannibalization of clicks). However, in a previous study featuring Honda, Mediative discovered that when a brand is in the top paid listings and in the top organic listings, the brand achieved a 16% point increase in brand association, a 2.2 x lift in aided brand recall, an 8% increase in purchase consideration. Therefore, the costs associated with bidding on branded keywords and the potential cannibalization of clicks must be weighed against the potential brand lift of appearing in both positions on the SERP.

Paid ads for a non-branded search that exactly met the searcher’s intent

Paid search is an effective tool for positioning your business in front of people who may not yet be aware of your brand, or who are likely to be heavily influenced by a brand.

We asked participants to “Imagine you’re renovating your rec room and want to get a new big screen TV. You’re not sure what kind to get and want to read some reviews. Use Google to find reviews of big screen TVs.”

Google Sponsored Text Listings Paid Ads non branded search

The 3rd paid listing,, captured twice the amount of time spent on the page, and 8 times the amount of clicks vs. and

Sponsored text ads perform best when they are very closely related to the intent of the search query. In navigational searches, people will often quickly scan past listings to find a brand they trust. In informational searches, they are more interested in reviews and/or comparison websites. Consider the searchers specific intent and adjust your paid search strategy accordingly. For example, front load titles based on the keywords you are bidding on – indicating searcher intent.

Note: Previous studies by Mediative show there is also an increase in brand recognition and purchase intent, even when ads do not match the intent of the searcher. In these cases, big brands could bid highly for the paid ads as there’s a strong chance that there will be no clicks, yet the company name is seen.

Paid ads combined with an organic listing for a non-branded search

Paid search can increase brand strength as well as drive traffic to your website.

We asked participants to “Imagine you are moving from Toronto to Vancouver and need to set up cable, phone, and internet in your new place in Vancouver. Use Google to find a company you could do that with.”

The sponsored listings featured, (big name brands) and (lesser known). The top organic listing was for (a lesser known brand) followed by and

Google Sponsored Text Listings Paid Ads combined with organic listing
  • Shaw and Rogers in the paid listings were viewed for a total of 13% of time on the page, and garnered 20% of clicks.
  • The top organic listing alone was also viewed for a total of 13% of time on the page, yet garnered only 7% of clicks.
  • Shaw and Rogers’ organic listings combined were viewed for a total of 22% of the time on the page, and garnered 48% of clicks.
  • In total, Shaw and Rogers, with the paid listings and organic listings combined captured 68% of clicks and were viewed for 35% of the total time on the page.

A significant lift in attention and clicks in non-branded searches can be achieved by advertising in the sponsored listings and having a listing in the top 4 organic results. The average duration of a look at one of the top sponsored ads was only 0.36 seconds – this is how long sponsored advertisers have to capture the attention of searchers, therefore, the more SERP real estate you can take up with your relevant listings the better your advantage.

Key takeaway

As a general rule, when engaging in paid advertising, ensure the first 1-3 words of the ad title are reflective of the keywords you are targeting. People barely scan beyond three words of the title, and if it’s not immediately obvious that your ad matches their intent, they will move down to the next listing.

To learn more about Google’s new SERP, and the effects of the new listings elements on searcher behaviour, get our latest research: “The Evolution of Google Search Results Pages and Their Effects on User Behaviour”.

A PDF cheat sheet version of this article is also available for download

Rebecca Maynes on linkedin
Rebecca Maynes
Rebecca Maynes is Mediative’s Manager, Content Marketing and Research. Her expertise lies in the creation of engaging thought leadership for Mediative. From compiling eBooks and case studies, to conducting research, analyzing data and writing white papers and reports, Rebecca is an integral part of Mediative’s Marketing and Research team. Rebecca began her career with in England, and, after emigrating to Canada in 2005, she has gone full circle, joining Mediative, a Yellow Pages Group Company, in 2009. Prior positions include Marketing for a B2B Software company. Rebecca graduated from Cardiff University in Wales, UK, with a First Class Honours BSc in Business Administration.