Google SERP update: Removal of right hand side ads.

By: Vice President, Director of Paid Search, Kristin Babcock

Background

Google Paid Search Ads have historically included placements above and to the right of organic results. This has allowed up to 10 paid ads to show on the first page of desktop results, with up to 3 ads above the organic listings and 3-4 ads on the right hand side above the fold, the rest below the fold.

What’s Happening Now?

Google has begun to remove right hand rail ads, limiting the paid search ad placement availability to up to 4 ads above the organic listings and 3 additional ads at the bottom of the page. Many Google representatives have confirmed the update as “global and permanent,” although there has been no official announcement released.

Implications for Advertisers

At C-K, we understand the impact that ad positioning has on visibility, efficiency and overall performance. As such, we already optimized the majority of keywords across accounts to hold top positioning. Therefore, only a small percentage of traffic is expected to be directly impacted by the reduction in ad space. Some advertisers, however, may see a negative impact to impressions and click traffic from desktop searches.

In general, the update brings the desktop results closer to the mobile SERP experience, which is something Google has been focusing attention to recently.  In addition, the new layout allows more room for Google’s Product Listing Ads (PLA’s) to appear, as well as other search result features such as the Knowledge Graph.

The most significant implication will be in the increased competition for ad positions 1-4, and as the number of available impressions decline, an increase to CPC is a likely result. Marketers should be assessing the possible impact within each account and carefully monitor changes in performance as related to ad positioning. Other factors, such as relevancy and ad copy, are expected to become increasingly more influential in advertisers’ ability to efficiently maintain a top position while successfully driving traffic to site.

How long have these changes been happening?

These changes took effect Friday, February 19, 2016, mostly impacting high volume search terms. It is believed that right hand ads on long-tailed keywords will be completely phased out in coming days.

Does this impact all my paid search keyword data?

The change will only affect Google; Yahoo and Bing results will not be affected by this update. It is unknown at this time if/how the change will roll out across Google Search Partner Networks.

Mobile search result layout will not be affected.

Looking ahead: What’s next?

As there has not been an official release of information from Google on this subject, we will provide an update as any additional details are received. Some initial speculation indicates the majority of search results will be updated by February 22, 2016, but this is not confirmed.