After much deliberation and testing, Google has finally decided to phase out the right-hand side PPC ads on desktop devices. They’ve toyed with the idea since 2010 and appear to have fully rolled out the change over the course of the past few days.
As it stands, no more than three to four paid search ads will serve above the fold on Google, with further PPC ads pushed down to the bottom of the page. While no official announcement has been made, it’s certainly shaken things up across the SERPs, with no evidence of ads being served in the sidebar, as per the couple of examples provided below from “compare life insurance” and “flights to cape town”:
The only exceptions stand with Google Shopping ads, where product listings will still be served for Google merchants, as well as the Google Knowledge Panel (which, from an organic perspective, will now become increasingly important).
This change in the Google desktop results layout will inevitably put greater pressure on advertisers’ CPCs, requiring them to bid for top positions or lose out altogether (the percentage drop in traffic and click-through rate from positions 3 to 4, or even 4 to 5, will widen dramatically). Equally, the additional PPC listing also reduces the visibility of the organic results and effectively bumps one of the unpaid listings down the page. This means fewer opportunities to rank anywhere worthwhile organically, too.
One questions the reasons for Google’s decision to “test” this or roll it out entirely, with thoughts and responses ranging from providing consumers with “more relevant results” and “better performance for advertisers”, to thoughts around Google simply wanting to streamline the desktop and mobile experience, and make it more unified.
In my seasoned opinion, albeit contrary to most of the current buzz going around about this and initial responses, I don’t see it lasting. It will come down to a trade-off between the costs and activity of those three to four ads running in isolation above the fold, and the previous six to seven served across the top half of the page. There is too much concentration risk on those 3 or 4 listings. Ultimately, Google will lose out on a whole lot of exposure and traffic from the right-hand side, even if the three or four advertisers that can withstand the pressure stand strong. And, chances are, even those advertisers will move to more carefully selecting which keywords they opt to push for those positions, and possibly down-weight others, in order to come in on target and within their overall marketing goals and budgets. It seems to me a waste of space…
…well, that is unless Google decides to shift other paid forms of advertising up in that RHS space (like Google Compare) mimicking the retail landscape layout and what’s actually in place for Shopping (where effectively 10 ads are serving on top for queries such as “bedroom furniture” below). Time will tell, and time sure goes quickly in search!