On February 18th, Google introduced a new layout that no longer includes the right side text ads in desktop search results; paid ads now only appear above and below organic listings.
There is one exception to this update: Google Shopping Product Listing Ads and the rarely seen Knowledge Graphs ads. With this cut in ad space, Google began showing 4 ads above organic results for some queries deemed ‘highly commercial.’ You can see the immediate effects of the SERPs changes from Moz here.
How does this update affect my search campaigns?
Don’t Panic! Although the update seems significant, the potential impact to your campaigns varies on the current position of your Google paid search ads. Before Google made this update, Seer clients saw less than 7% of desktop traffic come from right side ads in 2015.*
*Google AdWords Data, 1/1/2015 - 12/31/2015
Impact of removing right side ads
For keywords in positions 1 - 3:
- Increase in Cost Per Clicks (CPCs) due to higher competition for top positions
- Increases in ad spend due to higher CPCs
- Increase in CTRs for queries that historically had ads showing on the right side
For keywords in position 4:
- When 4 ads are showing at the top of the page, position 4 will see similar impact as positions 1 - 3
- When just 3 ads show at the top of the page, position 4 will see similar impact as positions 5-10
For keywords in positions 5 - 10:
- Decrease in CTRs and potentially conversion rates, as we often see lower positions yield lower CTRs/CVRs
- For highly competitive terms, Impressions may decrease for ads that do not show above the organic listings
- Decrease in Impression Share
- For some of these positions, ads may be shown on page 2. This will increase warnings for keyword “below first page bid.”
Impact on Product Listing Ads (PLAs)
- Running shopping campaigns is now the only opportunity to show ads on the right side. This may entice users who were not previously running PLAs to start to do so, increasing competition and CPCs
- Decrease in Impression Share
Impact for organic search results
- Potentially less organic traffic when 4 ads are showing
- Increased need to consider optimizing for knowledge graph, image search, local search, or other organic search features present above the fold
- Less Page 1 real estate in organic search, potentially shifting from 10 results to 9 results
What do I need to do about the update right now?
Keep Calm! Be vigilant, not reactive.
- Benchmark and monitor CTR, CPCs and Average Position
- Use the Top vs Other Report to see if terms in position 4 are showing at the top or bottom of the page
- Benchmark Organic Search CTR for high visibility terms with Google Search Console
- Communicate the update internally to your team on what has happened and what this change means
- Turn off bid rules and re-evaluate strategies for positions 4 and below or bid above
- Take stock of current keywords that fall below position 3 or that are in position 1 - 3 that are competitive
- Monitor performance and ROI before adjusting bid strategies
- Ensure full visibility with PLAs
- Annotate in Google Analytics
- Make knee jerk optimizations until you see the impact of this change on your specific account
- Make major shifts in strategy based on assumptions
- Launch any expansions right now until we see the full impact of this change
What should I plan for next?
- Monitor bid rules and make adjustments based on ad performance since this SERP change
- Monitor competition in search auction insights
- Consider expanding on Bing (other channels) that have cheaper CPCs and more ad real estate the Google. (Learn how some brands benefited from Bing)
- Consider paid social efforts to make up for lost traffic. (See how we helped one brand utilize Instagram)