Google recently announced they’ll be removing the right-hand paid ad space from search results. It’s not unusual for search results pages to change as they’re constantly being tested and refined, however, this could be one of the most significant we’ve seen for a while.
In short, the paid ad space on the right-hand column is being removed and the paid spots will be placed before and after the organic search listings instead. This means we’ll see 4 paid ads above the non-paid and the rest below. Google has announced that this change is to improve user experience and it’s something we’ve seen them test before.
Not sure why it matters? Here’s a before/after of what we can expect – red are paid spots, green are organic.
While this change has not fully rolled out yet, we can see it is currently in progress. So, what does it mean for businesses? My colleague Eren and I have put our heads together to offer our thoughts on some of the questions we’ve been asked.
With less ad space above the fold, will the cost of clicks go up?
Eren – It’s difficult to say with any certainty whether Cost Per Click (CPC) will see a significant increase at this stage of the shakeup. With the removal of right-hand side ads, will this mean more businesses will enter the AdWords bidding auction for keywords? Historically, CPC would see an increase when the competition in an industry or for a certain key phrases intensifies.
Initially, I would expect more businesses to up their bids to battle for the top four spots, as the assumption will be that this will get the best Return on Investment (ROI). This will more than likely result in an increase in CPC. That said, with ads appearing at the bottom of the search engine results pages, this could actually result in better than expected value with user ‘scroll habits’ changing. Everything is pointing to an increase in CPC in theory, but to what level remains to be seen.
What would you say to those who are currently using AdWords, but averaging positions 4-10?
Eren – Displaying ads in position 4 in some cases resulted in better ROI with the previous system, as this was in essence, level with ads in position 1 from left to right. With this a thing of the past, and with Google confirming the Click Through Rate (CTR) on all ads on the right-hand side being low in any case, the question is, are you going to be getting the quality and quantity of traffic you need to justify your spend? It really is a case of “go big or go home” with search campaigns.
To counter this, my advice would be to focus on Quality Score rather than bid amount, with Ad Rank being a direct bi-product of a high quality score. This will not only help you achieve a higher ad position, but will in most cases help you outperform those with higher budgets. In addition, I’d recommend exploring different channels, such as display, remarketing, product ads, gmail ads, call only and other campaign options, as an alternative strategy if you’re not getting the results you need from search campaigns. Perhaps this was Google’s intention?
Will this have much of an effect on SEO?
Chris – I doubt we’ll see any changes in the order of organic results, but with the 4th paid result above non-paid, there’s a chance websites will see fewer clicks coming from those organic positions. Over the last few years there has been a progressive squeeze on the amount of space at the top of search for non-paid, but it’s hard to know how this will change user behaviour. While we know users tend to prefer clicking on organic results rather than ads, it’s possible we’ll see a drop in click-through due to these changes – especially in more competitive searches. As with any change in Google, it would be wrong to say it’ll have the same impact across all searches.
Should I review my search strategy in light of this change?
Eren – It’s never a bad idea to review what you’re doing and look for ways to improve. As I touched on earlier, you should ensure you’ve optimised your campaigns for Quality Score and avoid over-reliance on search ads. The main thing is not to panic, I actually think these changes are quite balanced, so take this opportunity to re-think your strategy and consider a more holistic approach to your marketing.
Looking at this pragmatically, position 1 – 3 on the right-hand side is now position 4. Positions 5 – 7 on the right-hand side are now positioned at the bottom of the page as ads 1 – 3. Keep a close eye on your campaigns and see what the effect is and optimise/change accordingly. The landscape has changed slightly on the paid side, but I genuinely feel this change has a more profound effect on organic strategies than paid activities.
Chris – The different ways to rank on page one (or to show up in “search” at all) is only increasing, which is putting the squeeze on those who rely on just one method. Are you thinking about local maps results, Google Shopping, knowledge graph or the answer box? Is your site mobile friendly, or are you looking to utilise apps or app indexing?
If you’re not already doing so, start looking to diversify the channels you’re optimising for and look beyond page one on Google. I’m not suggesting you should abandon Google or make any snap decisions, but changes like this do show that an over-reliance on any one channel puts you at risk – diversify where you can!
Is this really about improving user experience or Google making more money?
Chris – That really depends on what you think Google is driven by. At first, this seemed like a strange move. If any big publisher announced they were going to drop ads to make their readers happy, we’d look on with scepticism. Because it’s Google, we’d be doing them a disservice if we didn’t believe this had been planned for some time, and extensively tested and re-worked.
Many seem to think this move will drive click costs up, which if true, does cast doubt on Google’s claim of altruism towards the user. The change will bring consistency to the layout experienced when viewing Google search results on mobile and desktop, so usability is obviously a factor. However, I don’t think Google will lose any ad revenue by making this change.
If you’d like to discuss organic or paid search further, please get in touch with StrategiQ today.