Last week, Google confirmed to Search Engine Land that side ads, the collection of advertisements that appear on the right-hand side of Google search results, will be permanently removed from search engine results pages.
The shakeup was dramatic; the reactions, perhaps more so. Everything from skyrocketing cost-per-click and major negatives for SEO to “the death of less intelligent advertisers” and benefits for SEO has been foretold–all with only a few simple statements from Google.
With any significant change to such a globally embedded advertising solution, it’s tempting to leap to conclusions and recommendations while awash in the fear that changes will leave you behind. However, there are only a few things we know with certainty.
What Has Changed?
- The right rail of search results pages will no longer feature text ads.
- Moving forward, up to four ads will appear at the top of search results pages, and up to three ads will appear at the bottom.
- For relevant searches, product listing ad blocks and Knowledge Panels will continue to show in the right rail.
Collectively, these changes mean that the total number of ads that can appear on a search engine results page have decreased from 11 to 7.
At first blush, it’s easy to paint conclusions in broad strokes: With less ad placements available, cost-per-click for advertisers will rise as we struggle for claim over fewer positions. With no side ads to visually distract from the main feed, organic search results will earn more clicks. With positions 4 or 5 through 7 moved to the bottom of the page, only advertisers willing to pay up will feature at the top.
But so many of these points can accommodate a different interpretation. For “highly commercial queries,” one more ad is taking a spot previously held by organic results–so won’t organic traffic suffer? For the same queries, does one additional top-page position mean it will be slightly easier to feature? Won’t bottom-page ads be cheaper than the equivalent right-rail positions because of their less visible placement?
Trust the Data
Gruen Agency makes data-driven observations for powerful results. Data doesn’t lie, speculate, or opine. Anything less than data risks subjectivity, and wherever possible, our clients and their money deserve better.
To this end, we are currently conducting an internal case study to see how these changes will affect the paid search positions of our clients and the cost-per-click required to achieve those positions. We will be measuring a large data set each week to see if changes occur over time as businesses and paid search managers react to the data post-change. Will the fourth ad position add more opportunity, or will taking away right rail spots drive more competition? Our objective answer will come from the data, and we look forwarding to updating you with our results.
A note to our clients: We are closely monitoring your costs and conversions to see what happens. As always, we will continue to optimize your advertising on a daily basis to maximize your return. Our goal of delivering an ever-increasing flow of leads for an ever-decreasing cost still stands. As we conduct our study and put the resulting insights into practice, we will continue to keep you informed and monitor your performance while introducing and exploring more opportunities in digital marketing.
To our digital marketing friends: please let us know in the comments if you’ve noticed any first-week impacts caused by these AdWords changes. We are looking forward to sharing our data-driven insights.