Google AdWords Scraps Sidebar Ads : The mad scramble for the Top 4
For some time now Google has been testing the way in which PPC ads appear in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) and now suddenly the search engine has completely changed the game. No longer will ads appear in the sidebar, which will be reserved for other purposes and rather than showing three ads above the organic search results, Google will now show four. There will also be three ads below the organic search results.
Is this a big deal?
Yes, it is, in fact it is huge and is likely to cause some serious upset to Google’s lucrative AdWords customers. It also serves to push the organic search results further down the page, which is not going to be popular amongst SEO marketers.
For paid search customers it will now be all about getting in the top four ads, and the competition to do so will be immense. Certainly it will have a big impact on prices as competitors increase their maximum bids accordingly. Of course there are also ads at the bottom of the organic search results, but will these attract clicks? At this time nobody knows the full impact.
Why has Google implemented these changes?
So, given that the changes will have a big impact on its loyal customers, why have Google done it? Clearly as far as Google is concerned there are going to be commercial motives, but according to the company the changes are designed for “highly commercial queries” where the new layout will deliver more relevant results to searches and “provide advertisers with improved performance”.
So what is a highly commercial query? According to Google this is when the search indicates that the person is about to buy rather than making a general search, for instance if the word “buy” is included in the query, however it also appears to be used in queries that aren’t as focused as that, though the results appear somewhat inconsistent at the moment; no doubt Google is still tweaking the format.
Another motivation is to bring the Google desktop search experience in line with the mobile experience. Certainly this is in line with the general policy of the company in putting mobile first, and it does make sense.
However, AdWords remains a highly lucrative income stream for the company, and with fewer ads for people to click on won’t this reduce Google’s revenues? There is no doubt that Google have done their sums, and they are not going to ditch something that makes them significant money, so perhaps they have something under their sleeve that will more than compensate for the loss.
What happens to the sidebar?
Now that there won’t be any paid search ads in the sidebar what will it be used for? It isn’t like Google to waste space. Google product listing ads (PLAs) is one possibility, and another is for displaying the Google Knowledge Panel box that lists information on businesses and other websites that relate to the search terms. Appearing in the Knowledge Panel can have a big impact.
What can advertisers do?
Agencies need to prepare their clients for the possible impact of these changes and their potential cost implications. Certainly it will be a scramble to get to the top. With just four slots to fight for, expect to pay significantly more to appear there. It is now even more important than ever to optimise the quality of your ads, keyword relevancy and landing pages. The top ads are going to be for the highest value keywords, so you will need to achieve a high quality score to keep in control, however, even with a high quality score you should expect to pay more.
Given that there will be fewer ads to click on, perhaps Google savvy searchers will tend to click on the ads on the bottom of the SERPs pages. This is certainly a possibility, and something that can’t currently be predicted. Time will tell, so it is important to monitor this. The question is to what extent will the changes modify the way people interact with the SERPS. Perhaps there are advantages to be enjoyed by targeting these ads – certainly there are potential cost advantages.
No doubt the full impacts of these changes will become apparent over the next few weeks, but for many it is likely to be a game changer. When all you needed to do to get on the first page of Google was to make it into the top thirteen ads, today that possibility has gone. You will have to fight harder to make it to the top. Alternatively, perhaps there are advantages in focusing on the bottom. After all, as we have said before it is Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) that is the important factor in driving the bottom line, so start experimenting where you are getting your best returns from.