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Whenever there is a large change in something search-related, I initially have more questions and hypotheses than anything else.  

If you follow digital marketing much, you’ve maybe heard that Google has dropped ads from the right sidebar of their SERPs (search engine results pages). If you haven’t heard about this change, no problem! We’ll fill you in.

Google dropping the sidebar on a digital marketer

What is Adwords?

For those of you that aren’t familiar with digital marketing, Google Adwords are the ads that show up on the search results page when you perform a search on Google.

This is a very simplified explanation, but each time someone visits Google and performs a search on a keyword that you are targeting, an auction occurs.  This auction determines which ads are displayed and how much a click is going to cost.

Here is  what the search results pages currently look like when you perform a search on Google:

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 3.18.52 PM

As you will see, there is a stack of 4 ads at the top (and more at the bottom).  These listings are denoted by a small icon that says ”˜Ads.’  If you click on one of those ads, the advertiser is charged for your click.  

In the past, you would see ads at the top, bottom and right side of the SERPs.  Removing the ads from the right side of the page is impactful not only from a PPC strategy perspective but also has an effect on other aspects of SEM.

The SERPs looked like this prior to the recent change:

old-serps-full

 

 

Will Removing Right Sidebar Ads Change Anything?

This change had me thinking, “Will this have an impact on website traffic?  Will it cause CPCs to soar to amounts that make it hard for the little guys to keep up?”  Only time will tell.

We’d all like to know whether or not there has been a significant shift in CPCs, clicks, or organic visibility, but I believe that it is too early to tell.  We will know more in the coming weeks, so in the interim we can just throw out some predictions and see who is right.
Why is this a Big Deal?

This is considered a big change because real estate above the fold (what is visible without scrolling) on the first page of results has gone from 7-8 spots with the right sidebar to 4 spots at the top.

Not only are there fewer ads, but the organic (non-ad) search results are pushed further down the page.  The potential impact seems like it could be significant, but after 4-5 days following the change, there hasn’t been a notable difference.

This change amounts in a 50% drop in the number of ad positions available above the fold, and it’s only logical to think that eventually CPCs are going to rise for those top positions.  

The most compelling data will likely be when we start to see performance by campaign type.  For this exercise, let’s consider lead gen and ecommerce.  It’s quite possible that online retailers won’t feel much of an impact because PLAs (product listing ads) still show above the fold.  You will continue to see product listings and some other items on the right side (for now), which should lessen the impact of this change.

For companies looking to generate leads, this could prove to be a difficult change.  It’s going to be interesting to track.

Historically, I’ve found the ads on the right side, particularly the top 1-2 positions, to convert well with lead generation campaigns.  In fact, those spots are my preferred positioning for lead campaigns, as we can spend more efficiently in that spot.  Being in the top positions definitely equates to more traffic, but more traffic is not always a good thing, especially if you are paying per click.

To sum up my thoughts on this, here are my predictions on what we will see as Adwords advertisers adjust to this change:

Questions:

  • Will this mean a significant increase in traffic for the top 4 ad positions?
  • Will the limited ad spots that are prominently visible mean an increase in CPCs?
  • What will be the long term effect on advertisers with smaller budgets?  Will they be able to compete in paid search?
  • How will organic traffic be affected by this change?  

Predictions:

  • The top 4 positions will see a 20-25% increase in traffic
  • CPCs will rise significantly due to the limited visibility for ads
  • As a result of CPCs, it’s going to be hard for those with smaller budgets to compete, meaning they will have to work harder to identify where there customers are and target them using more cost-efficient methods
  • Organic traffic will decrease on highly competitive terms due to results being pushed further down the page

This puts PPC marketers in an interesting position…  this is Google we’re talking about, so we have to play in their sandbox because that’s where the vast majority of searches occur.  In addition to that, what will the impact be on SEO efforts?

We’ll revisit this in a month or two when everything settles and we see some notable trends.

I’d love to hear what everyone thinks about these changes and the effect it’s going to have on the Adwords marketplace.  Tweet at us (@rogersikes and @voltagekc) or comment below!

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