Google removes the right rail, adds one more ad to the top, and pushes other ads to the bottom of the search results page

Google has confirmed a major change to how paid search ads will be displayed to desktop users.

  • Four Sponsored Results On Top Of Search Results
  • Removing Right Side Ads
  • Other Ads To Be Placed Below Organic Results

Google has removed the ads on the “right rail” (traditionally positions 4-9 in the paid search ads) and will be including a fourth paid ad above all organic search results for “highly commercial queries.”

“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.”

While Google announced that they will be removing traditional paid ads on the right rail, two ad formats will still be displayed in this area – Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and ads within knowledge graph panels.

This rollout is currently underway and is scheduled to be completed globally by Wednesday, February 24. WordStream states that over 85% of paid search clicks commence on the top ad units, and less than 15% of clicks occur on the right side rail, therefore, it is without a doubt that these changes will have a strong influence on paid search campaigns targeting generic keywords and should be monitored closely.

Increased Paid Competition

The first and most immediate impact of Google’s decision is an increase in competition within the paid search results. Removing competitors from being visible above the fold for a given term will create an increase to the already competitive marketplace with:

  • Increased Bids – Fewer available visible ad positions will lead to increased cost per clicks
    • One can anticipate that ads averaging lower than 4th position will increase bids immediately to stay on top which will cause a domino-effect to bids for position 1-3
  • Reduced Visibility – As a result of fewer ads visible above the fold, advertisers below the fold should expect to see a reduction in clicks

The Importance of Headlines, Ad Copy & Extensions

Having compelling ad copy and headlines in all paid search ads has always been important, but with more ad positions on top, advertisers will have greater importance in having their ads stand out from the competition to capture as much consumer demand as possible. Ad copy testing should be prioritized for competitive ad groups in order to provide incremental gains to offset the potential loss of clicks.

Ad extensions are another area that advertisers should focus on moving forward in order to once again have their ads stand out as much as possible. Please contact your Paid Search Team to better understand current and future best practices surrounding ad extensions and ad copy rotation.

Product Listing Ads (PLA)
Without any ads in the right rail, PLA’s will see increased visibility and should be prioritized for any advertiser with an ecommerce focus. It can be argued that leaving Product Listing Ads on the right rail was in direct competition to e-commerce platforms as Google continues its path away from being just a search engine. Nevertheless, PLA and Knowledge Graph are currently the only two elements being shown above the fold and on the right side.

Advanced Targeting

In order to remain efficient in spending within a marketplace that now figures to be more competitive and expensive, RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) and Customer Match are two advanced targeting methods that should be leveraged by brands. These advanced targeting tactics should be implemented in order to drive efficiencies in any AdWords account, especially within a generic keyword campaign where a targeted audience can be leveraged to combine with a particular ad copy.

Mobile & Desktop Campaign Synergies

With similar results appearing in mobile and desktop searchers, marketers can begin to leverage more synergies between their desktop and mobile strategies. Having a more consistent cross device user experience, will also likely lead to more similarities in desktop and mobile search consumer behavior as well. As a result, learnings from mobile campaigns where right rail ads have never been served due to screen real-estate should begin to influence desktop campaigns until further testing is possible.

Organic Search Impact

In many instances, paid search ads and other universal search listings were already pushing organic search results further down the page on desktop and tablet searches – in some case below the fold. This news means that organic search results will be impacted in three ways:

  1. Organic ads will be pushed farther down the page. Because of an additional ad being placed above the organic listings, organic search results will obviously see reduced visibility above the fold. We expect this to change historic organic search click- thru- rates. Furthermore, historic paid search click-thru-rates will need to be revised as this view strongly alters previous click allocations.
  2. Paid search cannibalization. A 2012 Study from WordStream stated that 45% of consumers were unable to distinguish the difference between a paid and organic search ad when no ads were visible on the right rail. While the SERPs have changed drastically in that time, it is our belief that organic results could see additional cannibalization from this change. The same research also furthered the above statement as to consumer action by presenting finds that “Sponsored results account for 64.6% of clicks for keyword searches that imply high commercial intent.”
  3. Knowledge Graph prominence. Without any ads on the right rail, there will be room for additional expansion of knowledge graph results in the right rail. Google has already begun serving direct answers to consumer’s questions with “Quick Answers” in the last couple of years. With more real estate to work with on the right rail, we expect to see an expansion of “Quick Answers” or additional knowledge graph features that have not been rolled out appear more frequently.

Google Ads ExampleIt is imperative to review stale ad copy and implement ad extensions so as to stand out in sponsored results. Speaking with you Paid Search Team will commence the necessary conversation to be had regarding proper placement for highly commercial queries. Lastly, each account should be reviewed to understand the full impact of these changes and to better understand budget recommendation so as to compete with the top 4 positons or fall within the ads on the bottom of the page.

From an organic search perspective, ensuring proper information is displayed in knowledge graph results takes on a greater level of importance. Recent functionality rolled out by Google earlier this month makes it possible for “official representatives” of an organization to suggest changes to knowledge graphs cards. Monitoring and optimizing your brand’s performance in e-commerce platforms also takes on a greater level of importance given the 4th add has been said to be coming for “highly commercial terms”. Additionally, schema markup should, as always, be used in all relevant instances in order to make organic search results stand out.

Please contact your paid and organic search delivery teams for more detailed information on this recent change will directly impact your brand.

(This post was written collaboratively by Klim Kavall and Frank Vitovitch)

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