Google confirms changes to Ads placements in Search Results

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PPCMonday morning started with a bang in the search community today as Google officially announced that they are removing right sidebar ads from their search results. Even though there have been rumours and reported sightings of ads being only displayed at the top and bottom of the SERPs over the past 12 months, it is still a game-changing announcement that will affect paid search campaigns across the globe.

A Google representative has stated that this change will affect all desktop searches and is being rolled out to all searches in all languages in all countries. It has also been announced that for what Google deems as “highly commercial queries”, users will see four ads at the top of the page instead of the traditional three. Unfortunately, the search engine giant has not given a clear definition for what constitutes as “high commercial queries” however it is assumed they will be for terms that indicate users are in the “decision/purchase” stages of the buying journey.

There has also been confusion as to what Google has stated will be two exceptions from the rules:

  1. Product Listing Ads associated with Google Shopping campaigns which will still show at the top and right hand side of search results.
  2. Ads in the Google Knowledge Panel which generally appears on the right-hand side.

So far there has been some back and forth on whether the above is true (especially ads in the Knowledge Panel) which means time will only tell.

What does this mean for my PPC campaign?

Best practice tells us that in order to truly understand which ads will appear for which keywords and what will likely soon be the coveted “fourth ad” space, we need to conduct numerous tests over the coming weeks. This is for two reasons: firstly, without a reasonable amount of data from the search community (which we will be contributing to and learning from in the coming days) it is almost impossible to make an informed decision on how to alter biddings. Secondly, Google is still rolling out the changes, and in true form it is likely that they will continue to tweak their formulas and paid search algorithms over the coming weeks.

One thing we can predict though is that with the absence of the right-hand sidebar, Cost-Per-Click (CPC) of most keywords will increase as there will be fewer opportunities to appear for certain search terms, especially those that are highly competitive. This could, unfortunately, end up pushing some of the smaller players out of the market who may not have the funds or the expertise when it comes to bidding for high-end keywords.

On the other hand, with fewer ads to choose from, Click-Through-Rates (CTR) and Conversion Rates for ads appearing in the top three or four positions should increase considerably. The big question here is whether these increased conversion rates will offset the higher CPCs, however this will massively depend on each business’ strategy and profit margins.

Next Steps

As previously mentioned, it will take a couple of weeks for Google to roll out this new change, and as of this morning right sidebar ads are still appearing:

This means that, for now, the most important task is to keep up to date with Google’s announcements and run detailed analysis on all accounts across the board. In the coming weeks we will likely hear more information from Google, however we expect for there to be continued back-and-forth from various representatives at the company.

To highlight this point, we only have to look at Google’s official statement on the subject:

Google SERPS

“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.”

AdTech will likely play an increasingly important part in Google AdWords campaigns due to this monumental change, particularly Programmatic CPA scripts that will automatically adjust biddings in line with market fluctuations. Companies that have previously only dabbled in AdTech will likely start to implement more complex applications to ensure ad spend is used wisely and ensure ROI even with these upcoming changes.

Naturally, Gravytrain will be closely monitoring all our paid search campaigns and contacting clients with any updates over the coming weeks, however if you would like any further information please contact us.