Google Removed Showing Ads on The Sidebar. How Does It Affect SEO

Google is rolling out a dramatic change that removes ads from the right side of its desktop search results and places ads only at the top and/or bottom of the page. At the same time, the company says it may show an additional ad — four, not three — above the search results for what it calls “highly commercial queries.”

A Google spokesperson has confirmed to Search Engine Land that the change is now rolling out to all searches in all languages worldwide. Ads will not appear on the right side of desktop search results, with two exceptions:

  1. Product Listing Ad (PLA) boxes, which show either above or to the right of search results
  2. ads in the Knowledge Panel

Google will now just show ads at the top and bottom of search results page. However, it may increase the number of top ads from three to four if the search query is ‘highly commercial.’

In other words, Google is likely to compensate for the lack of right-hand side ads by increasing the number of top paid ads for competitive terms.

Dr Pete Myers at Moz has been tracking the changes to ads, and we can see that Google has been testing SERPs with 4 ads on top for some months, before finally making the big change.

Here are some suggestions:

More reason to use paid ads (which will please Google).

PPC may become more expensive for the big terms. If Google is dropping the right-hand ads, that’s because it expects it can make up the difference with the top ad slots.

SEO becomes even harder for the big competitive terms.

Long tail search becomes more important.

Conversion matters. If SEO is hard or you have to pay more, then it’s vital to ensure that your landing pages convert.

Branding and retention become more important. If people search for your brand rather than the products you stock the squeeze on organic real estate matters less.

A poorer user experience on Google? More ads can annoy users, which may be a risk if Google had stronger competition.

Why Did Google Make This Change?

This move does a couple of things for Google. Mainly, it creates a cleaner user experience when someone completes a search.

By including fewer options, it also provides a more cohesive experience between mobile and desktop search — which is something Google’s been prioritizing for a while, especially with last year’s major algorithm change.

For the first time last year, mobile search queries surpassed queries coming from the desktop. To stay in front of this trend, Google’s product teams often build a product starting with the mobile experience or mobile first.

The overwhelming majority of paid clicks also come from ads above organic results. By eliminating the right-side ads from the SERP, Google is able to clean up the page without removing a frequently used ad unit.

Will This Impact Marketers’ Organic Results?

google removed showing sidebar ads

Yes, it will — although it’s hard to say how exactly. While fewer ads could increase organic traffic, the fourth ad above organic results could also push results down the page to a point that lowers traffic.

When you consider that the further down a result appears in SERPs, the lower the click-through rate it receives, it’s reasonable for us to assume there’s going to be a negative impact on organic traffic.

What Can Marketers & Advertisers Do About These Changes?

Fewer ads above the fold mean it’s going to be harder to maintain the same amount of impressions and clicks you’re used to. It could also mean higher CPCs as bidding wars happen for those coveted top spots. If you’re bidding in a competitive auction and aren’t willing or able to achieve positions one through four you may want to ask yourself if those keywords are worth your time at all.

If you want to stay on course through these changes, here’s what we suggest:

1) Review how your ads appear in Google’s SERPs.

If you currently have live Google search campaigns preview your new results by navigating to the Tools tab and then clicking on “Ad Preview and Diagnosis”. Here you can review search results by location, language, device, and domain. To learn more about how to use this tool, read these instructions from Google.

2) Review your average position in search results for a given keyword.

Keep in mind that to maintain high impressions and clicks on your ads, you’ll need an average position higher than three or four depending on the keyword. If you’re lower than three or four you’ll be pushed below organic results or worse, the “no man’s land” known as the second-page results. You can find the “Avg. Pos.” metric in the Keywords tab of AdWords.

3) Increase your average position in search results for relevant keywords.

There are two main ways to increase your average position: increase your bid, or improve your Quality Score. Google determines Ad Rank based on your bid vs. the competition, everyone else bidding on that keyword, as well as Quality Score, which is based on how relevant your ad and landing page are to the search term that triggered the results. To move up fast, increase your bid and quality score.

While it’s a good idea to aim for those top spots, you shouldn’t necessarily feel pressure to achieve number one. Too high of a bid, and the resulting clicks may generate less profit for your business than the ads cost. This is bad. Always use CPA (Cost per Acquisition or Conversion) as your trump metric. Focusing on this over position or CTR will keep your campaigns profitable as you bid for those top spots. Conversion metrics always win over click metrics.

Google is pretty deliberate with these kinds of changes and consults a mountain of data before doing so. We expect the change to stick and for Google to focus on the user above all else.

And remember, these changes have made it even more important that you’re optimizing for the top organic spot, as well as the Knowledge Graph. While a real estate is removed from the right side could seem like a good move for marketers focused on organic search, it could also have the impact of moving organic results further down the page. Those with a top organic spot, or a spot in the Knowledge Graph, will have a better shot at those organic click-throughs than anyone else.

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