Last month, on Friday, February 19th, to be precise, Google confirmed some dramatic changes involving the layout of their desktop queries. The search engine will no longer show ads to the right of its search results. Ads will only be placed at the top and bottom of the page.
These changes are not as sudden as they may seem at first. Actually, they are the result of an experiment that started back in 2010 and which has been refined during these years.
This elimination of the right-side ads has rolled out to all desktop searches, in all languages. It's a global change. Certainly, advertisers need to adapt to it and learn what it means in terms of impressions, CPC, CTRs, etc.
The new look and positions for ads
The new layout will make the mobile version and the desktop version more similar than ever before, which is coherent with Google’s efforts optimizing their search results for mobile devices. The right rail is the main element that makes them look and feel different
These are the changes that you need to know:
- Text ads will not be displayed on the right side of the page. Those eight possible positions for ads will not be available anymore.
- There is one additional ad above the organic search results, which makes a total of four, instead of three. These top four positions are reserved for what Google calls “highly commercial queries” (more information below).
- At the bottom of the search results page, there will be up to 3 ads. From now on, ads located here will be able to show extensions.
- The only known exceptions for the right rail are PLA blocks and Knowledge Panels, which will still be served on relevant queries.
What are "highly commercial queries"?
Google has stated that the fourth ad on top of the search results will be more often served for “highly commercial queries”. The definition of these is pretty vague, but in general terms, they are queries in which the purpose is to find a product or service.
If the query’s intent is to purchase, then Google will consider it a highly commercial query and serve four ads instead of three.
To put it in their own words:
“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.”
How will the changes impact campaigns?
All we can share is mere speculation, but we hope it will serve you as guidelines on what to expect and what to keep an eye on. Keep in mind the change is still recent, and no one even knows for sure what is going to happen to the right rail.
Here are some of the most widespread predictions:
Since the number of ads per page has been reduced from eleven to seven, it seems reasonable to believe that this will lead to higher CPC. Competitivity to be among the 4 TOP results will increase.
Still, before you join the trend and start paying more, calculate your ROI. Maybe a higher CPC is not worth it. Also, consider that bidding to an average position below 3 or 4 will reduce the visibility of the ads significantly. The CTR of bottom-of-the-page ads is expected to drop.
Low-budget campaigns will probably have worse results due to less visibility, and campaigns that base their position on their bids will have to refine their strategies.
Another of the main worries for CEOs has to do with organic clicks and SEO. As you may have noticed, the new way ads are displayed pushes organic results further down the page. In some cases, it is necessary to scroll down to see the first organic result.
Finally, ad extensions on bottom-of-the-page ads might help balance their drop on the number of clicks to make it less dramatic. Marketers should start learning how to use them properly in order to gain visibility and optimize their ads.
It is too soon to tell the real impact of these changes. Until more specific data becomes available, just be cautious. These will be fluctuating times for SEM. If you can, ask for professional assistance to adjust your campaigns and bidding efforts for better performance on this new layout.
What about the right rail?
The new purpose for the right side of SERPs remains uncertain. Google has not specified nor officially confirmed anything, and by now it remains empty, except for two exceptions:
Knowledge Panels. These are still appearing as well, and they are not likely to be eliminated. Google has been running ad tests on them since 2013, and it seems they will continue experimenting.
Concerning new uses to replace right-rail text ads, an ideal candidate would be Google Shopping. Most blogs are willing to bet that this will be the new use. It would be an excellent spot for e-commerce websites to promote their products, and it would make sense since it seems Google has been making important moves to drive more traffic to Google Shopping.
Learn more: 10 Tips to rock Google Shopping.
If this is confirmed, online stores should be ready to start running Google Shopping campaigns and learn all about featuring their products on SERPs.
Google Merchant recently updated its conditions demanding higher quality on data feeds. The most relevant change you should be aware of is that starting next May, it will be required to include GTINs on product feeds.
- GTIN: It is the numerical version of the bar code. A unique identification number by international standards that every marketable product has.
Learn more: All you need to know about product feeds.
Another alternative use for the right rail might be to promote Google’s own products and services, such as Google Business files, Google Maps, or their social network, Google+.
Anyway, we shouldn’t have to wait for long to learn about the news that Google has in store for this area.
- Search Engine Land: http://searchengineland.com/google-no-ads-right-side-of-desktop-search-results-242997
- Search Engine Watch: https://searchenginewatch.com/2016/02/23/google-kills-right-hand-side-ads-what-does-this-mean-for-sem/
- Rimmkaufman: http://www.rimmkaufman.com/blog/google-reducing-right-hand-rail-ads-desktop-searches/
- Degdigital: https://www.degdigital.com/insights/what-you-need-to-know-about-googles-removal-of-right-rail-ads/