The SEM world has been set aflame by some of the recent changes seen on Google’s Search Engine Results Page.  First observed by Dr. Pete over at SEOmoz and later elaborated on at length by Larry Kim over at Wordstream, the main takeaway for all of you intrepid PPC Account Managers out there is this:  On many searches, Google has been showing only seven organic search listings on the first page, instead of the usual ten.  Have a look below at this screenshot taken today on a random query for Google AdWords:

SERP Screenshot
Google’s search engine results page now limits some queries to seven organic listings.

There are only seven organic listings couched in between the two sponsored ads.  You can replicate this result across multiple queries.  Which I did.  Repeatedly.  Based on the research from the excellent Larry Kim Wordstream article linked above, keyword searches with organic sitelinks (which, as noted, tend to be branded or navigational queries) are showing seven or fewer organic listings.  Some are even showing as few as five!

So, the real question is this:  What can you do to take advantage of this change in your own PPC campaigns?

1) Give lower ad positions on the first page a second look.

For some queries, you now have way less competition from the usual organic listings on queries that have a six-pack of sitelinks tagging along.  This means that there is more valuable screen real estate out there for your ad to stand out.  When you’re not in competition with an additional three organic listings, there’s a greater probability of your ad grabbing eyeballs and clicks.

Consequently, if you find yourself out of first page bid price for certain keywords (specifically branded, navigational, and competitor terms for the same), try giving the first page low position spots a try.  You can try playing the odds now that they’re more in your favor, and you might like the results that you see.

2) Get more use out of your branded and navigational keywords.

Again, for the same reasons listed above, you should use the branded and navigational queries at your disposal.  The additional factors of lower domain diversity, less organic competition, and the reduction in organic SERP real estate make branded and navigational queries more important than ever.

This goes for both your terms and that of your competitors.  With fewer organic listings available, pay per click may be the lone opportunity you have to capitalize on competitor terms, and the same goes for your own.  You can see Sam’s excellent article on the use of the Auction Insights tool to make the most of your branded keywords here.

So there you have it.  We’ll be getting back to you soon with more news regarding AdWords and sitelinks (FYI: You might need to change some of your sitelinks), but that’s for another day.  Until then, I’d recommend taking a look at your own search results to see if your own terms are feeling the squeeze with this change.  Feel free to share your own tips and tricks for handling this change below!