Google Changes the SEM Game by Removing Right Hand Sidebar Ads

Google has rolled out another major update to their SERP. And no, its not a major penguin or panda update that changes the organic website listing. Google has changed the way we view paid search listings, by abolishing the right hand side ads – except for the shopping ads that may show up on the right hand side of the SERP.

Typically the first fold of the SERP would usually show around 6 to 8 paid ads, now after this new update – the first fold now only shows 3-4 ads. This change is permanent and global. So what does this mean for advertisers?


SEM Game Changer: Being on the top 3 to 4 positions on the paid search listing was always important for a SEM campaign – but after this paid search update the top 3 to 4 positions are now twice as valuable.

With the supply gone down to be placed on the first fold of the website, the demand will increase dramatically for competitors wanting to be on the first page of the Google SERP. Thus, there will be an increase on CPC as competitors fight for the top 3 to 4 positions.

In addition, the CTR for ads in position greater than 4 will drop significantly since research repeatedly shows that ads above the fold perform better than ones below the fold at the bottom of the SERP. A drop in CTR in turn affects the Quality Score since these bottom of page ads get the impression but not the click. This leads to a higher CPC as well.


Change on SEO: Organic listings will be pushed further down by 1 position for “highly commercial queries”. This may not seem like a big change, but in many cases, the first organic listing may now be doomed to exist below the fold. On the other hand, PPC just lost half its inventory space, making search ads more expensive and possibly pricing it out for some players, especially in already expensive markets such as Australia. This move could well increase the value of SEO as a longer term investment not just for big enterprises, but maybe even more so for smaller companies.


Key strategic changes needed by advertisers

A lean and mean Adwords strategy – Advertisers need to become more aggressive in weeding out poor performing keywords. It has now become more expensive to be less efficient. Campaigns need to have highly targeted keywords aimed at achieving the top 3 positions with ads that are very specifically worded in line with the search query.

For informational queries, Google is moving towards the Knowledge graph to provide commonly sought information directly on the SERP. In the coming months and years, the Knowledge Graph will collect more information on a more diverse range of subjects, and will start appearing for more and more types of user queries. Its growing prominence will probably encroach on the Ad listing space. Going forward, using SEM for non-commercial promotion of content may no longer be cost effective – A long term SEO strategy becomes essential.

Google also seems increasingly interested in forming close partnerships with social media platforms. Their deal with Facebook allows Google to scan the fb platform for information and posts from major brands. A year ago, Google re-forged an alliance with Twitter, allowing Google to index tweet information straight from the firehose (and also withdraw it at will). So brands finding it hard to be competitive on SEM can further their SEO with a robust and regular social media presence.



Written by Ben Pirrie