Google replaces right-side ads with a fourth paid ad spot

Since the launch of AdWords in 2000, text ads have always appeared to the right of Google’s search results. However, things are about to change. Google is about to ditch right side-ads (though Product Listing Ads and ads in the Knowledge Panel will continue to be shown on the right) and replace them with a fourth ad above the organic search results for “highly commercial queries.” Google is a past- master at moving the goalposts and switching parameters, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the latest announcement. But two important questions remain: why has Google made the change, and who is set to lose out as a result of the changes?

Why is Google ditching side ads?

The answer, in short, is that the search giant wants to provide more relevant search results, and make desktop results better resemble mobile search results. Replying to a question from Search Engine Land about the changes, Google said:

“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.”

What will the changes mean for advertisers and marketers?

Every time Google sneezes, the world seems to catch a cold. We all panic and worry about how Google’s algorithm changes will affect our businesses. Many of us are guilty of overreacting, but given the impact of Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird, overreaction is understandable. But what will the changes mean for the online business community? Will they affect business profoundly, or are we worrying unnecessarily?

Paid Ads

The loss of right-side and bottom ads won’t necessarily be as devastating as some people are predicting. A study of 2000 Wordstream customer accounts in January, 2016, showed that only 15 per cent of clicks were generated from side and bottom ads: the remaining 85 per cent of clicks were generated from the top ads. Is this data representative? Well, the data comes from customer accounts across all industries and represents tens of millions if clicks, so the answer is likely to be yes. So perhaps the loss of the side ad will be more than compensated for by the addition of the fourth ad spot.

The other point that may well have been overlooked is that the fourth ad spot looks more like an organic search result than an ad spot; and that will be greeted favourably by users who prefer organic results. The other point to note is that you can use ad extensions in the fourth ad spot, and highlight important information about your business like product images, links and contact information. This information can help to increase click-through rates.

Organic Search

If there is to be a loser from these changes, it’s probably organic search, and that will have repercussions throughout the SEO industry. Why will organic search lose out? Well, the new paid position #4 is the old organic position #1.

As far as organic search results are concerned, the top result will no longer appear above the fold on most desktop devices. Is it the end of the world? Hardly. Organic search has in truth been losing ground to new ad formats and other fundamental SERP changes every year; so it’s not all doom and gloom. It just makes the job of the SEO specialists that little bit harder.

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