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Right now, as you read this, athletes all over the world are working hard and persisting through pain to prepare themselves to represent their country and find personal glory in the 2016 Olympics.

Yet, let's be honest: Except for their families and a few close friends, unless the athletes end up on the podium in one of those top three spots with medals hanging around their necks, all that effort and sacrifice will have gone mostly unnoticed. No one remembers who came in 16th, 8th, or even 5th.

Digital marketers are now facing a similar situation because of recently announced changes to Google's search engine results page (SERP) layout. Google is adding one more paid search result at the top, bringing the total to a maximum of four, while eliminating the ad positions on the side of the page. The new SERP layout also will have three ads at the bottom—although, truthfully, those are much less valuable.

The net effect is that there will be 30% less advertising opportunity on the page—from a maximum of 11 spots to a maximum of 7—which makes winning one of those four places on top about as important (and difficult) as placing in the Olympics.

These changes also have another effect: They continue Google's concentration on larger advertisers with significant budgets and therefore in the best position to bid on those coveted positions. Small and midsize businesses will be less likely to be able to compete for those top spots.

But if you are one of the fortunate few who can compete, you can do a few things to improve your chances of medaling in the pay-per-click (PPC) and click-through-rate (CTR) events.

Be strategic with your ads and messaging

Google uses various criteria to determine who gets those top spots. You can help your cause (and produce better results) if you make effective use of manual AdWords ad extensions, such as apps, calls, and locations. There are seven manual extensions in all—including structured snippets—that can be used to carry a variety of messages to your audiences and encourage immediate action.

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image of Mark Smith

Mark Smith is a co-founder of digital marketing agency KeywordFirst. He has worked in digital marketing since its inception and helped lead the first search engine marketing team at W.W. Grainger.

LinkedIn: Mark Smith