Google Removes Adwords Search Ads on Right-Side of Search Results Pages. What Does it Mean?

Earlier this year, Google dropped a bombshell on marketers in all industries. Veering away from its preferred way of displaying paid search ads for years, the search engine decided to remove Adwords search ads that were formerly placed on the right-side of search results pages.

Almost immediately, marketers began estimating the impact of this change on both organic and paid search marketing efforts. Let's examine what we know about the change, and how it will impact search results.

Google's Change in Search Ads, in Detail

On February 21, Google made it official: effective immediately, it would remove all right-handed ads on its SERP (search engine results page). Instead, depending on the type of search query, it began to show between 3 and 4 ads at the top of the page rather than the previous standard 2 Adwords search ads.

While the search engine did not explain the reason behind this change, research has repeatedly shown just how little impact search ads on the right sidebar had on users. Eliminating these ads in favor of additional ads near the top of the page means eliminating ad space with low cost per click and sparse results.

The Effects on Marketing Efforts

Most Adwords marketers are more interested in the 'what now' than the 'why,' looking forward to how this change might impact their marketing efforts. It's a valid question, so after six weeks of having the change in place, here is what we know:

  1. Search Ads become Native. Most internet users now easily recognize sidebar ads on Google and elsewhere as just that - promotions aiming to sell a product or service. By dropping its sidebar ads, Google increases the credibility of promotions on its site, emphasizing the types of search ads that most seamlessly blend into the native search results.
  2. The Importance of Top SEO. If more of the precious space atop the SERP is taken up by ads, placing in the top spot or two in organic search results will become even more important. It's a simple math equation: a user who looks at the top six results will look at only 2 organic links if they are preceded by 4 search ads, compared to 4 organic results (and 2 search ads) previously.
  3. Adjusting SEM Strategy. A change in ad structure means that both your search ads and success metrics may need some adjustments. Ads atop the SERP offer more space for copy than their sidebar counterparts, an opportunity that should not be ignored. At the same time, improving your average placement through increasing your budget or improving your quality store suddenly became more important as space becomes more precious.
  4. The most profitable ads remainOne study estimates the total amount of clicks allocated to bottom and sidebar ads to have been only around 7% of total Adwords clicks on the SERP. In other words, Google's change takes away ads that, compared to their top-of-page counterparts, underperformed to begin with.

Will it Effect Mobile?

For the time being, Google's decision to remove right sidebar ads on its SERP only affects desktop searches. Mobile results are shown in a single column layout to begin with, leaving no space for sidebar ads. The change could actually be seen as an attempt to streamline the mobile and desktop experience, aiming to accommodate users across platforms who have adopted a vertical scrolling mindset.

In short, Google's decision to remove Adwords search ads from the right side of search results pages does and will have an impact on both organic SEO and paid SEM. But the impact will not be drastic enough to panic; instead, it should be considered an opportunity to make changes to your organic and paid search strategy and ensure your presence on the network is ready for the new world of single column search results. To learn more about Google's change and SEO in general, contact us.

Trenton MillerComment