Google Discontinues Desktop Sidebar Ads: What It Means To Your Advertising

Posted on March 2, 2016

Google has officially unveiled a change to the way pay per click (PPC) ads display on desktops which likely will radically impact natural and paid search results for many. The search engine titan will no longer show text ads in the right sidebar, and will instead show as many as four text ads above organic search results and three ads at the bottom of the page.

A search results page is exactly what it sounds like: a page of results based on what you searched for, usually combining natural search and paid search results. Natural search results are unpaid, typically highly authoritative, informative, and user friendly. Paid results can be just as rich content wise and structurally, but are paid for. So what does this change by Google mean for both of these groups of results?

Natural Search
Lest we forget, Google is a business and natural search results don't cost companies a thing. This update effectively pushes natural search results further down the page to give more real estate for paid ads. Take a look at the search results page below looking for flights from Denver to New York City. The first natural search result barely displays on the first screen, requiring a searcher to scroll down to see anything that isn't sponsored in some capacity. As you can see from the side by side comparison, natural results displayed far higher prior to this transition.

Paid Search
First, let's summarize the recent changes to better understand the full picture:

  • On desktops, no text ads will be displayed on the right hand sidebar.
  • Upwards of four text ads will display above the natural search results.
  • Upwards of three text ads will display beneath the natural search results.
  • A maximum of seven text ads will display, less than the 11 that were possible prior.
  • Google's Knowledge Panels and product listing ads will continue to display in the right hand sidebar.

Many SEO experts have voiced their thoughts about these changes, with opinions falling on both sides of the fence. Some are predicting that pay per click costs will skyrocket given the reduced supply of "high value" pay per click real estate. Others are accurately stating that this change actually allows for more premier pay per click top spots, and as supply increases, costs should decrease.

The increase to include up to four top ads is known, but the omission of the sidebar ads leads us to believe that there are fewer quality ad spaces available. Over the years, we have seen dozens of clients enjoy great success as the "number one" sidebar ad that would now likely be the third or fourth ad in the top slots.

On the other hand, ads displaying under the natural search results should decrease in price given the low comparative visibility. Long story short, we suspect that ad costs at the top end of searches will rise while costs at the lower end will decline, as will clicks and impressions.

The vast majority of Google ad clicks have historically come from the ads displaying above the natural search results. Obviously in Google's mind, they believe that additional ads displaying above the search results will offset the costs of less total advertisements.

Google has continually modified how they display ads over the years, and this surely will not be the final alteration they make, especially given this only is impacting desktop searches. If you are monitoring your own PPC campaigns, we suggest paying close attention to the following metrics for the upcoming weeks:

  • Average position
  • Clickthrough rate
  • Average cost per click
  • Conversions

These are metrics you should be always watching, but with what could be a surge of companies responding to this change, your existing bidding and keyword strategies might be greatly impacted by the competition.

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