Google Removes Right-Side Paid Search Results
It’s been a busy week for Google as the search giant has completed a permanent change to remove paid search ads from the right-hand side of the search engine results page (SERP). This may come as a surprise, but actually Google has been silently experimenting with this new layout for the last 5 years, with a more concerted effort in the latter part of 2015. To compensate for the loss of the right rail of search (usually anywhere between three and six text ads), Google has actually added a paid result on the top for searches that they define as “highly commercial.”
What does Google mean by “highly commercial?” These are searches that tend to be much more popular, and would have shown where right-rail ads would have displayed in the past. Searches like “best hotels,” “home furnishings,” and vehicle make-model searches (“honda civic,” “toyota rav4,” etc.) for example.
However, there won’t always just be white space on the right rail now that this change has taken effect. In an effort to continue to drive consumer relevance through search, Google will now expand the usage of both product listing ads (ads that show a variety of products and options to buy) and the knowledge graph (a series of images and information based on the search terms) in search results.
Product listing Ads:
Interestingly, many of the changes Google is making to their search engine results page are in line with the company’s mobile-first mentality, so only showing ads at the top and bottom makes sense from a platform cohesion standpoint across devices. But what kind of impact can we expect when it comes to buying paid advertising through Google? Well, as with most drastic changes in the paid search space, a lot of the effects are “wait and see.” There’s a lot we won’t know until we start seeing how the market reacts.
One thing is for certain though, with the implementation of a fourth paid search ad, organic results are starting to take a back seat to paid ads on the SERP. Depending on your screen size, in many cases organic results may not even be visible without scrolling down the page; making search real estate even more competitive while driving higher importance on quality SEO. And as we all know, the more competitive the real estate, the more expensive it is. Therefore we would expect to see a potentially significant increase in click costs on paid ads, which obviously has a big impact on advertising budgets.
Now, brands shouldn’t have as much to worry about when it comes to buying their brand terms since relevance still rules when it comes to search results. If you’re buying your company’s name (which you should), you will still appear as a top result with a minimal cost increase. But where we would expect to see a much larger impact is on the more general (and popular) keywords, as well as location-based searches – those searches Google calls “highly commercial.” Let’s look at another search for “car dealers near me.” The new layout is displayed with four paid search ads on top, followed by the relevant locations listed under a Google map:
The image shows everything that is “above the fold,” or viewable on the screen before scrolling down to see more results. Based on this, the results that are more closely related to the consumer’s search are in the fourth paid ad position (a local dealership) followed by the top two in the map listing – which are unpaid. A scroll down the page of the result shows that there are three more listings under the map that statistically a consumer won’t see before clicking out above the fold. This potentially puts organic relevance in jeopardy, and may all but force many companies that had a strong organic search presence to invest in paid search in order to compete with the big spenders (even though the big spenders may be less relevant).
But is this all part of Google’s master plan? Google insists that the average click-through-rate for right hand side ads is poor across virtually all verticals, and the assumption is that they’re banking on the expected click cost inflation from this change to absolutely be more profitable in the long run. Make no mistake though, this is a calculated move by the search giant that has been years in the making and is intended to help increase revenue for the company while – in their eyes – improving the consumer search experience.