Google have stopped displaying AdWords ads on the right hand side of desktop search results pages as of Friday 19th February 2016.
In addition, for some highly commercial queries, the number of ads shown at the top has increased from 3 to 4. Google have confirmed that highly commercial queries are those where there is a deep intention to buy. For example, “buy laptops” or “London hotel”.
These changes affect all desktop users worldwide, and in all languages.
What Has Visibly Changed?
The desktop search experience is now closer to that of the mobile experience, where there were already no right sidebar adverts.
However, on some search queries this right hand space may still be used for Product Listing Ads (PLAs) or Knowledge Graph Boxes.
Organic listings may be pushed further down the search results page due to some queries displaying an increase of ads at the top of the page. This may mean seeing no organic results above the fold.
There is reduced advertising space on the search results page. Originally, there could have been up to 11 ads displayed on a page, whereas there is now a maximum of 7.
What Does This Mean For Users and Businesses?
For the average user, this will not have a major effect. The right hand space will still be used for PLAs and Knowledge Graph Boxes for some queries, so results pages won’t always look too far off what they’re used to layout-wise.
They may however, find it more difficult to distinguish ads from organic listings. Right hand ads were always more obvious as paid adverts compared to the ads at the top of the page, which blend more into the organic listings.
The change has much greater potential to effect businesses. Due to a reduced number of ads on a page, competition for ad space will increase, and likely push up the average Cost-Per-Clicks (CPCs) as businesses fight for the top spots.
Because of the organic listings being pushed further down the page for some queries, organic space will become even more valuable, and lead to a bigger focus on SEO to win those top listing spots.
Why Have Google Done This?
Typically, Google haven’t announced a reason for their decision. However, there are a few potential theories that could explain the change.
Google determined that click-through-rates for right sidebar ads was poor. The change, therefore, will help bring in extra revenue due to a probable inflated CPC from the top of the page ads.
Although general users could distinguish right side ads as promoted listings, the lines become more blurred between top ads and organic listings.
The heat map image below was sent to us by a Google employee. It shows where users typically click on a search results page.
As you can see, the majority of clicks are on the top of the page ads. No surprises then that Google have decided to do-away with the right hand ads and generate extra revenue from clicks on the top ads.
Revenue is likely not the only factor in their decision however. It is in Google’s best interest to keep their users happy and provide a good search experience to prevent losing market share to their competitors, i.e. other search engines such as Bing.
Rather than short-term revenue gain, Google are likely looking for long-term market share.
Another motive could have been to help bring a more universal search experience to users no matter what device they are utilising. By removing ride side ads, desktop users will get a closer experience to that of mobile and tablet searchers, bringing more continuity to the search experience.
Although there’ll be no huge effect on users, businesses and marketers could be significantly affected by Google’s latest changes to the search results pages. Competition for paid listings, as well as those valuable organic results, could become fiercer in the battle for market share.
It is too early to tell just yet exactly what impact the change will have, but it will certainly be interesting to see what comes of this. We’ll be sure to bring you any further news on the matter.
Adam has been a part of Blue Frontier since 2013, working in the SEO and digital marketing team. He has enjoyed developing his skills and expertise in this area, helping clients drive valuable online traffic to their businesses.