In February of this year, Google made a dramatic change to how it displays ads for search results. They removed all right side text ads from desktop searches with the exception of PLA/Google Shopping ads. This change reduces the number of maximum text ads on any desktop search from 11 to 7.
What does this mean for advertisers; why did Google make this change and what do search results now look like?
What It Looks Like
Before when a user did a search from a desktop device, Google returned its search results (a SERP) with a maximum of 3 ads above the organic listings; up to 6 ads along the right column and 2 ads below the organic listings.
Why did Google make this change? From its inception Google has always been about providing its users with a good search experience. This is the foremost reason why Google rose to be the leader in user searches and continues to dominate today.
By removing up to 5 text ads on the right of the organic listings, users are presented with a cleaner more streamline look. In addition, Google has been spending a lot of effort in recent years working on refining their organic search algorithm in order to return highly relevant results.
Unlike organic listings, paid text ads do not have to be highly relevant to appear in search results they only need to have an advertiser willing to pay if a user clicks on their ad. Ad rank (in what order ads are displayed) is determined by the amount an advertiser bids for a keyword along with the keyword’s quality score. If an advertiser’s keyword is not highly relevant to the user’s search it will receive a lower quality score that eventually lowers the corresponding ad out of the coveted top spots most likely regardless of bid. Non-relevant ads thus would be much more likely to appear in either the right hand column or the bottom of the page. By removing right side ads, Google took another step to eliminate results that may not be highly relevant to a user’s search and thus provide users with a better experience.
In addition, those bottom ads (previously ad rank positions 10-11) for which advertisers were either not bidding nearly as much as competitors or had low quality scores are now completely removed from the first page of search results again providing the page with less clutter and an overall better customer experience.
With this change, desktop search results are now more closely aligned with mobile, which last year for the first time surpassed desktop searches. Consistency across devices has been a goal of Google for the past few years and this change is a step closer to achieving that consistency.
What Does This Change Mean For Advertisers?
Obviously, there are less advertising positions available down to 7 from previously 11. Will this mean higher cost per click charges due to supply and demand? Possibly, but it also will certainly create more opportunity for advertisers to set their ads apart from their competitors and an opportunity for increasing profits through AdWords.
By eliminating the clutter on its return results, Google not only did its users a favor, but also its advertisers who are following AdWords’ best-practices!
How so you might ask?
By serving highly relevant ads, users can increase their quality scores and subsequent ad rank position on the page (for details on quality score, read my post – Why Advertisers Need To Know Their Quality Score).
Related to quality score, match type has also become even more vital to an advertiser’s success. Advertisers who previously used ‘broad match’ in a shot gun type strategy will soon receive lower quality scores on many search terms that will ultimately push them off of the first page of ad results.
Advertisers who use ‘exact match’, ‘phrase match’ and ‘broad match modifier’ match types will be rewarded by serving relevant ads with less competing ads on each page. To review match types including when to use, see my blog post – Properly Using Keyword Match Types In Google Advertising.
In addition, removing ads from the right column will also make ad extensions much more valuable. Ad extensions are extra pieces of information that advertisers are allowed to append to their ads that appear above organic results (now ad positions 1-4). Ad extensions previously did not appear for right column ads and so many advertisers who consistently lived in ad ranks (4-9) simply never bothered to create ad extensions. However, now with 4 ads on top and no right side ads, ad extensions are critical to increase quality score and click through rates (CTR). For more information on ad extensions including what they are and best-practices for using, read my blog post – When It Comes To Google Ads, Size Does Matter.
Finally, remember that Google eliminated right column text ads. They still serve PLA/Google Shopping ads in the right column. In fact, it has been rumored that Google may even increase the number of Shopping ads they serve from the current 8 to as many as 16.
This makes a ton of sense for Google. Ever since Google changed their PLA ads from free to a pay per click model late in 2012, they have been continually improving PLA results and making them more prevalent in their search results. Removing the right side ads will certainly free up real estate for PLA ads and bring more importance to these ads for e-commerce advertisers.
Even before the change, PLA ads many times outperformed Search ads for many of my clients. Now after the change, my clients’ PLA results have been booming. However, I suspect this is true only for retailers with properly optimized Google Shopping Campaigns. For best-practices on Google Shopping, refer to all previous blog posts listed in the Google Shopping category.
It was Winston Churchill who said: “a pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” Google removing the right hand text ads is a big change and thus has led to a big opportunity for advertisers who embrace the change.
Now more than ever it is important for advertisers to ensure they are running well optimized campaigns. Focusing on match type, ad extensions and optimizing bids are immediate factors that will directly correlate to increasing profitability. Consistency is the key. Advertisers need to make sure every campaign they are investing advertising dollars into have been optimized for these key metrics. Review my post, Reviewing Your Campaign’s Scorecard, for a quick way to effectively review which campaigns contain all the metrics recommended.
In addition, e-commerce retailers should spend much of their current focus on PLA/Shopping ads. With the removal of right hand ads, PLA/Shopping ads have been given much more exposure in SERP results and as such contain a huge potential for generating increased profitable traffic.
Still need help or looking for someone to bounce ideas off? I am currently offering free marketing discovery sessions to those interested. Call True Online Presence at 1-888-456-6943 or schedule online.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Andy Splichal is an online marketing strategist with more than a decade and a half of experience helping companies increase their online presence and profitable revenues. Although this blog focuses on driving profitable traffic through Google AdWords, True Online Presence offers additional services for lead generation as well as other proven marketing strategies customized for each client.