Google Removes Sidebar Ads: What It Means for Advertisers

On Monday, February 22nd, Google dropped a bombshell on the world of both paid and social advertising. Effective immediately, Google will no longer be showing ads on the right hand sidebar. They are instead opting to show ads only at the top and bottom of search results.

The removal of the sidebar, which has been a staple location since AdWords’ creation, will certainly shake up results for many differently reasons. This blog post will go over the positives and negatives of this change and what it means for current advertisers.

Goodbye to Sidebar Ads

With the removal of the sidebar, the biggest change advertisers will notice is the decrease in ad space on the search results page. Instead of the usual 10 to 11 spaces reserved for ads to show up in (top, bottom, and sidebar), Google is now only offering 7 spaces: 4 spots on the top and 3 on the bottom. This change removes 4 ad spaces from search results.

OldvsNew_SERP

The sidebar is now reserved for only the Google Knowledge Graph and Product Listing Ads. Besides these two exceptions, the right hand side with remain blank, with a layout that is meant to mirror the current tablet and mobile search results page.

Prepare for a Bidding Shake-Up

Ultimately, this change is a wake up call for advertisers who show up lower than the 4th ad position in search results. Four of those advertisers are no longer showing up at all, and advertisers that were content with the 5th to 7th sidebar position are being sent to the bottom of the first page of search results.

The effects of this change could result in an all-out bidding war, as companies try to find their way to the top of the page to gain visibility. Like any war, it’s important to be prepared.

For advertisers who currently have keywords in the sub-4th position, it’s time to determine if bidding more for those keywords is worth being at the top. For advertisers already in the top spots, they need to be prepared to see an increase in cost per clicks (CPC) as competitors try to break the top 4. It will be important for all advertisers to keep an eye on the average position and CPCs in the coming weeks and make changes accordingly.

Effects on Ad Performance

That being said, it’s not all doom and gloom for the advertisers who are on the top. With less clutter on the search results page, the ads that are showing on the top are more prominent in the user’s eye. This can result in an improvement in the click through rate, which can increase a keyword’s quality score. This, in turn, could help mitigate the negative effects increased competition might have.

The outlook for ads that are in the 5th – 7th position is less clear, as Google doesn’t share performance results comparing sidebar vs. bottom ads. It will remain to be seen how this ultimately affects performance, but the lower visibility already puts these ads at a disadvantage.

(Limited) Extensions for All

Another benefit of this change, especially for the advertisers who normally found themselves on the sidebar, is that all ads, from position 1 to 7, will be able to use ad extensions. In the past, extensions were reserved for the top and bottom spots, so this change is a welcome one for companies that have wanted to implement them, but never were in the right position.

BottomAdExtensions

If a company has not used extensions due to a poor average position in the past, now is the time to start adding them.

There is, however, a negative change to extensions brought on by the removal of the sidebar. Since there is an additional position at the top, Google is limiting ads to three extensions at any given time. Advertisers with more than three extensions running will most likely see a slight drop in ad extension impressions.

SEO Implications

So far, the focus has been on the impact of this change on paid search, but it’s also important to understand its significance on organic search. Ultimately, the addition of a 4th ad position on the top only further pushes down organic results for search.

SEO_Gone

Looking at search results, certain results (like the example above), no longer show organic listings at the visible top of the page and require the user to scroll down to find results. While the effects this has to site traffic have yet to be determine, the fact remains that it is getting more and more difficult to have a company seen organically.

Conclusion

With the loss of the sidebar, Google has shaken up the search results page for all advertisers.  No matter how well an advertiser’s ad is performing, this change will be affecting everyone. Keeping an eye on the CPCs, average position and ad extensions is essential in the coming weeks.

Whether it’s SEO or PPC, companies need to look at and review their strategies in order to adapt to these new changes.

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