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No doubt you’re all aware by now that Google is removing ads from the right-hand side of its search results pages (SERPs). 

Ads will now only appear at the top and bottom of SERPs.  

To give some context around what this means for search marketers, we asked several experts for their take on why Google made this decision, and also how marketers need to adjust their PPC campaigns as a result. 

The new view

google right hand side ads gone

Why did Google remove the ads?

Richard Hartley, PPC Director at Jellyfish

These days, Google is ‘mobile first’ due to mobile searches beginning to overtake desktop searches, and this move makes for a similar user experience across both. 

With fewer sponsored links, the overall quality should improve. The lowest position links (9,10,11) are the ones Google has deemed least likely to appeal to the user, and so removing them means that the quality of the remaining links is improved.

When there are fewer positions advertisers will have to bid more to get on the first page, and there’s much more incentive to hike bids to achieve position four. 

Dan Arad, Director of Product Management at Kenshoo

The decision likely comes as a result of continuous testing. As consumer behaviour evolves, it’s important for publishers to consider the user experience, how it can be bettered, and how ads can be most effective.

From an industry standpoint, Google is not the only publisher that has been experimenting with the number of ads and placements within the consumer experience. 

Facebook for example, has also adapted its desktop advertising, reducing the number of Newsfeed ads to improve relevance and quality and redesigning its ads in the right-hand column.

Kate Watts, Head of Bid Media at RocketMill

It will give Google more room to promote things such as PLAs (product listing ads), which should benefit positively from this change. 

It could also use the additional space to capitalise on other features in future. 

Marcus Knight, Head of Paid Search at 4Ps Marketing

Sidebar ads have always suffered in terms of click-through rate (CTR), which for me was probably the biggest factor.

If users are not interacting with an element of the Google experience, it makes sense that they would remove it. 

Judith Lewis, Owner at deCabbit Consultancy and tutor on Econsultancy's PPC Training Course.

While this smaller ad may seem like it will result in more money, it will push some people out altogether as the return on investment (ROI) on clicks may stop making sense.

Ultimately those three or four top ads will cost more as more advertisers vie for the ad space there.

How will this impact PPC campaigns?

Dan Arad

With fewer ad slots available, impression levels will decline, and we expect keywords with higher traffic to become more competitive as brands invest in making sure they appear in the top spots.

This will be especially significant for popular head terms. 

As a result, it is likely CPCs will increase for those spots, although only desktop traffic should be affected. 

Although impressions and traffic may decline, expect clicks and overall click-through rates (CTR) to increase as ads on the top of paid search results have historically received significantly higher CTR than ads on the right.

Kate Watts

People on the cusp of positions four and five will be forced to increase their bids, or fall to the abyss that is the bottom of the page. 

Bids being raised in lower positions will have a knock-on effect up the SERP, raising the prices of higher positions too. 

For brands with a more modest advertising budget, it will limit the use of prospecting and generic keywords that were previously used when bidding for right hand side ad positions.

Brand campaigns are going to be increasingly necessary as the four adverts at the top of the SERPs push organic listings down even further, so there will be more of a need to bid on your own brand to fend off competitors’ paid ads.

Richard Hartley

The change will push the top organic link down the page – below the fold on some screen resolutions - and make it much less likely to be clicked on.

Do marketers need to do anything differently?

Marcus Knight

Whilst preparing for higher CPCs is a sensible action to take, I believe more focus should be placed on driving better quality advertising going forward.

User-centric ad copy, relevant landing pages, and a well structured account are all must-haves if you want to succeed in the newly updated market place. 

In short, all of the best practices we strive towards currently become even more important now are competing for fewer ad spots.

Judith Lewis

Make sure you are checking all keyword reports and removing (or adding negatives) keywords that do not serve you well, and add in exact matches of keywords really working well in their own separate campaigns with their own daily budget.

One thing I hope this change will do is convince businesses to take end-to-end tracking of sales more seriously and to re-evaluate their attribution modelling.

While there are several models (flat, last click, first click, u-shaped), the truth is more complex. Simplistic attribution modelling risks incorrect decisions being made based on flawed data. 

Make sure you understand your users and their journey to, and through, your site.

Kate Watts

Those advertisers with smaller budgets are likely to have to adopt new strategies, as bidding on short-term keywords will become too costly for them.

instead they will have to shift their focus to niche and highly relevant longer tail searches instead – in essence, far more thought will have to go into these strategies as the option to bid lower and appear in position five or six will be made redundant.

Richard Hartley

What remains to be seen is which competitors will increase bids in a kneejerk reaction, and if savvier advertisers will be able to ride out competing with advertisers who are not as shrewd.

Dan Arad

As a result of the change some advertisers may choose to diversify their programs across publishers and channels to maintain overall CPC levels. 

What do you think about the move? 

Will it impact on your PPC activity? Let us know in the comments below...

Jack Simpson

Published 24 February, 2016 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Simon Sanders

Simon Sanders, Head of Content at Pulse

Search results are Google's editorial. The PPC results are the ads. Having now cleared the desktop view of ads, it raises the prospect of two interesting developments. One of which I think is a certainty, the other, well, let's see!

First of all, PPC is a form of native advertising, right? (Please feel free to disagree). It's advertising that looks like content. The logical evolution of this will be to see ads appear not just at the top of the content, but in the feed, interspersed among the organic results.

The second change, could be in time, the introduction of paid content down the right hand side that allows for more copy and more creative than the current character limits and visuals of the text ads. Whether it be a series of boxes or a skyscraper or whatever, there is some valuable premium real estate there that in the short term at least could be tested to see whether it had traction with users. Certainly, if you take an area like flights or consumer goods, the opportunity for a brand to offer not just links to their sites but guides (for example) would be well worth considering. Targeting would be predicated on the words or phrases used, as you would imagine, so e.g. someone searching for "cheap Barcelona flights" could be offered the same content (perhaps a guide book) as someone searching for "what to do in Barcelona" etc, the point being there would be an opportunity to bring more visual content to life in results.

9 months ago

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Peter Schneider, Consultant at spacedealer GmbHSmall Business

Regarding the limitation of ad space on the search result pages:
this will inevitably lead to higher CPCs on the remaining placements. Plus it will put a pressure on advertisers to provide optimized product feeds to even access PLAs. As a result Google is cutting into the long tail of companies that spend money on PPC: firstly the requirements to successfully run PPC campaigns are higher and secondly because higher prices can only be sustained by companies with a market or aggregator model (Amazon, flight search engines, etc.) or by very strong brands that are able to translate paid clicks into meaningful results (revenue, in most cases).

Secondly this can be seen as a next step in the development towards delivering less fragmented search results, where the final goal can be to support voice based search. With vocal interaction a search engine can only give one result at a time and this has to be "the right one", whatever that might mean. This is the primary challenge.

In regards to PPC being native advertising:
There were a number of studies in recent years in Germany to proof that a little more than half of the german internet users do not know that Google shows ads or even if they know, they don't recognize these ads (source: bvdw.org). So, yes, PPC can be seen as native advertising.

9 months ago

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Nick Broad, Director at Leveldisc

I'm not convinced that this will inevitably lead to higher CPCs. I think there will be a degree of rotation on spots 3&4. The bids for the top 4 are to an extent determined by those outside the top 4, so these advertisers will need to be kept in the game somehow, otherwise why bid at all ? So if advertisers outside the top 4 stop bidding doesn't it make it less competitive not more?

9 months ago

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Shashikant K, Co-founder at Karooya.com

According to WordStream, on an average 15% of the clicks happen on side ads. There will be accounts for which this number is far higher and will be affected by this change.

Here's an AdWords script that will help you identify accounts and keywords that could be severely impacted. This script goes through your account (or all the accounts if you use it at MCC-level) and finds out the keywords that received a lot of clicks from the side positions.

http://www.karooya.com/blog/no-side-ads-adwords-script-to-identify-keywords-under-threat/

Shashi

Co-founder, Karooya.com

9 months ago

David Walby

David Walby, Search Director at Navigate Digital

@Simon, interesting thoughts, esp around the possibility of PPC ads being embedded amongst organic listing further down the line. @Nick, it will be interesting to see if this means advertisers have to be more selective over kw coverage. These were my early musings on the update last week: http://bit.ly/side-ads

9 months ago

Neale Gilhooley

Neale Gilhooley, MD at Evolution Design Ltd

I seem to be getting more e-mails from Google telling me of the joys of the Display Network these day. Seems they are trying to push us toward that if we cant afford the new reduced slots. I don't really view thousands of impressions from the Display Network as the same value

Thanks Sahsi @Shashikant I'll try you link

9 months ago

Joe Friedlein

Joe Friedlein, Director at Browser Media

Most Google changes tend to kick off a storm of protest / panic / conjecture and this has been no different.

As Dan says, this will have been after a period of testing and the last thing that Google is likely to do is cut off a healthy revenue stream if the right hand bar was delivering that. Yes, the cynics will say that increased costs from the top slots will more than make up for the lost revenue from the right hand ads but we don't yet know whether CPCs are going to rocket.

Initial reports suggest that performance of the top ads has improved :
-http://www.browsermedia.co.uk/2016/03/02/how-has-the-removal-of-the-right-hand-side-ads-affected-google-ppc-advertising/
-http://www.accuracast.com/articles/advertising/adwords-ctr-increases-as-right-side-ads-dropped/

We will absolutely be watching with interest but this could well prove to be another storm in a teacup. A lot of the 'big' changes are.

9 months ago

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