Google Removes Right Side Ads: 1 Month Out, Minimal Impact

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On Feb 18th, Google began to roll out changes to the SERP, resulting in the elimination of right side ads. We shared our initial thoughts on the implications this would have for paid search right after the change occurred. Though our initial projections were mostly on target, we were surprised to find that some of our predictions, particularly for keywords ranking in position 1-3, have shifted in CTR and CPCs differently than expected.

Now that some time has gone by, we’d like to share the impact we’ve seen from this update and how it aligns with our expected implications.

All data is from Seer and is in reference to non-branded keywords for desktop only.

Impact on Keywords Ranking in Position 1 – 3:

  • Prediction #1: Increase in CPCs
      • What we’re seeing: CPCs increased by 9%
  • Prediction #2: Increase in CTRs
    • What we’re seeing: CTR decline by about 23%
      • This may be due to increased competition at the top of page when more ads are showing
      • This may also be because high average position ads that used to show on the right, now appear more often at the bottom of the organic SERP results, instead of above.

Impact on Keywords Ranking in Position 5-8:

  • Prediction #1: Decrease in CTR
    • What we’re seeing: CTRs in these positions actually saw an improvement of 23%, with that we also saw CPCs increasing significantly
    • With any major AdWords update, advertisers can become reactive with bid and budget management in the weeks following, increasing CPCs in an attempt to preserve coverage.
  • Prediction #2: Decrease on impressions
    • What we’re seeing: Previously ads in positions 5+ accounted for 13% of all account traffic, but post update this number has dropped to just 3%.

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Impact on Keywords Ranking in Position 4:

    • Prediction #1: For ads in position 4 that show on top of the SERPs, we predicted the same outcomes as we did for positions 1-3 (See above).
      • What we’re seeing: CPCs increased (+337% ) likely increased due to competition. There was a 525% increase in CTR for positions 4 for ads that are now showing at the top of the page.
    • Prediction #2:  For ads in position 4 that show below the organic SERPs, we predicted the same outcomes as we did for positions 5-8 (See above)
      • What we’re seeing:  These ads actually saw an increase in CTR by about 18%, which is not what we were expecting. However, Impressions did see a decline, with previous ads receiving about 17% of total impressions to 16%.
      • With that, these ads also saw an increase in CPCs by 30% likely due to advertisers increasing their bids for terms in this position and hoping for top placement.

Should we switch focus from avg position to top vs bottom of the SERP page?

Account wide, positions 1-3 formerly showed up on the top of the page 78% of the time. However, with recent data we have seen this percentage decline to 75%. This means that 1 in 4 times when avg position is less than 3 your ad could actually be appearing at the bottom of the page.

Additionally, prior to the update, .001% of impressions for positions 3.1 – 4.9  were top of page impressions. One month out, 6% of impressions for these positions are top of page. We expect this number will climb as time goes on, but as of now the Top vs Other report in Adwords paints a more reliable picture of specifically how and where your ad is being seen, rather than the overall Avg Position metric.

Additional Implications + Takeaways

  • Early findings show that advertisers who received more than 20% of their traffic from right side ads prior to the update, have been the most impacted.
  • Using the bid to position rule for positions 1-4 does not indicate you are bidding to show above the SERPs due to the new update.
  • Being in top position is more important than ever in driving clicks and traffic; however reliably appearing in that position is now more difficult than ever.

Seer will continue to monitor how this change is affecting our clients.

Have you seen similar results? Tweet @ladycuscus & @AllyMalick or share what you’ve seen in the comments below.