This week saw a dramatic change to the search advertising landscape as Google officially started to phase out the right hand sidebar ads on the search engine results page (SERP) for desktops.
From 19th February, Google started to roll out this latest update which has not only removed the right hand sidebar ads which have ran alongside the organic listings since they launched Adwords in 2000; but also have introduced a 4th position ad above the organic ads for what they deem to be “highly commercial” queries along with 3 ads at the bottom of the page.
“Highly commercial” queries being those queries where there’s a lot of competition, and where the intention to buy is typically higher, for example “Florida Hotels”, “Home Insurance and “40” Televisions”. From this perspective the new layout is beneficial to the both the customer, as they will be presented with more relevant search results, and also to the advertiser, as the performance of these ads in these top positions should be better for such queries.
Let me show you this change in action. So below is a snapshot from last week of the SERP for the query “bmw remapping”. You will see 3 ads at the top of the page above the map of those garages local to me offering BMW remapping, and you will see the sidebar ads down the right hand side of the results…
Now lets look at the same query when ran today…
Now there’s 4 ads at the top, and the map has moved over to the right hand side bar where the side bar ads used to sit.
In actuality Google has been testing the SERP with 4 ads for a few months now, so if you feel like you have seen 4 ads in place previously, chances are you were part of their testing period. In fact Google haven’t yet publicly announced the change and will only confirm the update retroactively. According the the SEMPost however, Google representatives around the world have confirmed that this is a permanent change and that sidebar ads will soon be extinct.
What are the implications of the removal of the sidebar ads?
Whilst it’s early days and we are unable to yet assess the real impact of these changes, there are some immediate impacts that we can discuss now.
- The organic listings are being pushed further down the results, and in fact being able to view these listings above the fold is becoming rarer and rarer. For those not currently using paid search, they may need to give it some serious thought if they want people to find their business instead of their competitors.
- The sidebar ads did not utilise the expanding list of ad extensions that are available to advertisers to occupy further search retail estate and get more information across to their target audience. Therefore the utilisation of these extensions such as sitelinks, structured snippets and callouts will become more important to improve the effectiveness of paid adverts.
- Google Shopping Campaigns will become more important to those businesses selling products online. Reason being that the removal of the sidebar ads actually leaves more room for Google’s Product Listing Ads (PLAs) to show in the sidebar as they are still being run in the sidebar space even when the 4 ads above the fold are displayed. Google Shopping Campaigns therefore give retailers an opportunity to make sure they are staying “above the fold” if they are struggling to compete via their keyword targeting.
We will be keeping a very close eye on a number of metrics to asses the impact this update has had on the importance top of ad page placements versus the bottom of page, and overall campaign performance metrics such as impressions, clicks, cost per click…etc… so watch this space for further updates on this matter from us!