SEO & Paid Media

Google removes sidebar ads. How does it affect PPC & SEO?

13 min read


Despite the many tweaks and changes that Google has made to its search engine over the years, the appearance of ads down the right-hand side of a search results page hasn’t changed since 2000. Not anymore. As of 19th February 2016, Google’s sidebar ads have been removed to be replaced by up to four ads at the top of the page and up to three at the bottom.

The reduction of ads per page from 11 to 7 with the removal of Google’s sidebar ads means there are fewer opportunities for your ad to be seen, around 36% less. But you can be sure that Google isn’t doing this to reduce its revenue by 36%! What’s actually taken place is that an extra slot has been opened up on the area of the page that attracts the most clicks, whilst also increasing the competition for space between advertisers by reducing the number of ads on a page. The overall result is likely to be a higher cost per click and overall advertising spend!

There’s also a knock-on effect for search engine optimisation (SEO) campaigns too. The additional ad in the top of the page pack pushes organic results further down, on most desktops requiring the user to scroll down to reach the first organic result.

The new look top of page results. Note the extra ad above the first organic result.

Google Search Ads New Layout - Top

3 additional ads at the bottom of the page, under the 10th organic result.

Google Search Ads New Layout - Bottom

As a search marketing consultancy, Huble Digital regularly monitors the latest trends in SEO and PPC, and as daily users of the search engines ourselves, we have been keeping up to date with the latest predictions by key figures in the industry on what this will mean for PPC and SEO campaigns.  

This blog post is a summary of the latest thoughts on the impact of what is one of the biggest shake-ups of the Google AdWords system in recent years. If you’re worried about how these changes will affect your company’s current PPC or SEO efforts, why not contact one of our expert search marketing consultants?


What are the repercussions for Search Advertisers with this New AdWords Display?

It’s likely Google’s removal of sidebar ads will cause a significant effect on businesses’ search advertising campaigns.

According to a recent study by Moz:

“Across the 10,000 searches in the MozCast data set, ads now max out at 7 per page, with a total ad count of 25,755. As of February 16, there were up to 11 ads on a page (3 top + 8 side) and a total count of 43,740 ads. Google has taken an overall 41.1% drop in AdWords ads in our data set across the past week.”

On Paid Search (PPC), be prepared to see

Inflated CPCs (Cost Per Click)

It is very well known that users interact more with higher results and lower results don’t get that much exposure. With no advertisements on the right-hand sidebar, PPC is likely to get more expensive from now on for competitive terms as companies fight for the top places. As there are fewer slots now (7 ads vs 11 ads before) the law of supply and demand means costs will likely go up!

However, this is also a push towards better quality advertising moving forward. The better the ad, and the more relevant the landing page is to it, the better the experience for the user, and the lower the cost Google AdWords will charge you. This change can be justified as an attempt by Google to provide better-quality search results to their users. Remember to follow AdWords best practices here and work on getting a very high-quality score for your ads to lessen the impact on your CPC! 

Impression levels declining

Since there are fewer ads displayed now we expect there is more competition for your ad to appear. Businesses that leave their account alone after this change are likely to see ad impressions decline over time. 

A drop in average ad position

For the same reason, it will be more difficult to get a higher average ad position since there is less real estate available on the search results page. 

Click-through rates (CTRs) increasing

It has always been the top three paid search results that have received higher CTRs than the sidebar ads on the right of the page. According to iProspect, ads in the top positions received 14x the CTR of the same ad on the same keyword on the right-hand side. With the removal of Google’s sidebar ads and the addition of a new ad at the top of the page, there is a greater opportunity for companies whose ads do appear in this high-click area for attracting clicks.

More ad extensions available and easier reporting

Since now the only ads available accept extensions (sidebar ads didn’t previously), this is a great opportunity for advertisers to highlight more information about their business. Also, it will get easier to test the performance of ad extensions. Before, when sidebar ads on the right didn’t accept site links, advertisers couldn’t tell if their ad had been shown on the top or on the side with an extension or not. This change solves this issue. 

On SEO be prepared to see:

A potential drop in organic traffic

With 4 ads on top of the page instead of 3, organic search results are pushed further down and now the 4th ad takes the place of the old organic 1st position. This will make the 1st organic result less likely to be clicked. SEO looks to be the main loser of this change.

According to BrightEdge, a leading enterprise SEO and content performance Marketing platform, the top 10 organic results will become even more precious and being on the first page of SERPs will be more difficult than before the change.


Why did Google remove sidebar ads from the right-hand banner?

There are plenty of reasons that could have led to this change but here are some of the ones we believe are the most likely:

Google always tries to protect the user and offer the highest quality possible

This change has seen a drop in the number of advertisements shown by Google and with that, the overall quality of results should be higher. Ads that were on the sidebar have always suffered in terms of CTR, so if users were not interacting enough, the user experience wouldn’t have been the best possible. In this case, Google removing sidebar ads makes sense to improve the ways it can delight its users, but with the backup of the additional ad on the top banner to ensure it’s not a decision that causes revenue to plummet.

Google search results on desktop now look more like Google’s mobile results

Mobile searches will overtake desktop in 2016 and with Google’s mobile-first design, it makes sense to provide a similar user experience across both desktop and mobile platforms. One of the most visible differences between Google desktop and mobile was those sidebar ads because they didn’t display in mobile searches.

Google makes more space on the right to promote product listing ads

The sidebar currently looks very blank, but it’s unlikely to stay that way for very long. Together with more ads on the top of the page, and a likely increase in cost-per-click, Google’s potential revenue in the coming years looks healthy!

What are experts saying about the removal of sidebar ads?

There is a lot of speculation around this topic but no one yet can say for sure the full extent of the impact of these changes.

A Google spokesperson recently said to The SEM Post:

“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.”

However, according to Moz, there are exceptions to the “highly commercial” queries that are showing ads. The team there are reporting some seemingly non-commercial search terms (child abuse being one example) that are currently showing the new layout. You can read more at the link below.

According to Larry Kim, founder of WordStream, this change is a net positive for paid desktop and PPC marketers, because sidebar ads didn’t get a good CTR as we have explained. Larry Kim also insists that we need to be aware that this change affects only desktop searches, which now account for less than half of all searches.

What effects have we seen?

It is still quite early to come to a conclusion on the full impact of this change, but the team at The B2B Marketing Lab have been monitoring our clients’ metrics (such as clicks, impressions, CPC and CTRs, for PPC and rankings and organic traffic for SEO) closely in the lead-up and throughout this transition. So far, we have not seen any substantial change in our clients’ PPC accounts. However, we will monitor this closely and share an update soon.

How have these changes impacted your website? Have you seen a dramatic increase in the cost of your PPC ads or a drop in paid and/or organic traffic? Perhaps you’re not getting as many leads as before? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then we can help. Why not get in touch with the team to today to find out more?










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