Google have announced they will be removing the paid product listings on the right-hand side of search engine results pages.

Instead, those paid product advertisements will be replaced by four adverts above the organic search results. This is significant news for many, especially for SEOs who realise that their sites have less presence on the page, as well as for PPC management executives who now need to tailor their approach to the change in AdWord’s bidding landscape.

Highly commercial searches

Google has said that the changes will mainly affect highly commercial search terms. These are the searches that users make when they demonstrate a deep intent on making a purchase or carrying out a transaction.

These searches are usually at the end of a user’s purchasing journey, so not necessarily in the research phase. Using the below example, ‘pocket sprung mattress’ shows the four adverts above the organic search results.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 10.22.32

These also tend to be the keywords with the highest possible commercial value, meaning that securing a position in the top four ads would be highly beneficial and lucrative for businesses. Achieving a higher quality score would also ensure a lower cost per click.

According to a Google spokesperson, “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.”

Despite the spotlight being on the four main ads at the top of the search results, this does actually mean fewer ads overall. With the removal of the sidebar ads, this would bring the total number of possible ads on a page down from 11, to seven.

For example, searching for ‘pocket sprung mattress’ shows seven ads with the new Google AdWords layout; but with the old sidebar layout, there are 11 ads. This also means that competition for the fewer ad positions will become much tighter.

What is replacing side ad placements?

After the recent change moving forward, the space previously allocated to the sidebar ads will be home to more prominent product listing ads, as well as knowledge graphs with additional information becoming more prominent.

google ad placements

A theory behind Google’s removal of the paid sidebar ads is to have a consistent appearance for both desktop and mobile devices moving forward, since mobile does not have any sidebar ads running. Another reason could be to do with the historical performance of sidebar ads involving CTR (click-through rate). Due to the more prominent nature of sidebar information such as knowledge graphs, sidebar ad placements have become more or less redundant and, from Google’s perspective, it feels like a natural progression to remove them.

With the latest news from Google concerning the way paid ads are displayed, this has a direct impact on where organic listings sit on the page. Due to there being four ads at the top instead of three, that means that the top organic listings occupy less real estate above the fold and are pushed down the page. Ensuring strong rankings for commercial search terms has always been a measurable KPI for SEOs, and this would cement the need for a stronger organic search presence with less prominent listings.

Final thought

Due to there being fewer paid ads on the page, this can be considered as an opportunity for strong organic listings to receive a higher CTR, especially with additional benefits such as review rating stars, catchy meta description etc.

Highly relevant commercial search terms tend to display the most relevant pages that would enable users to carry out a purchase or transaction and, with well-optimised organic listings becoming more prominent in the wake of fewer paid sidebar listings, this could mean additional clicks and ultimately increased traffic and conversions.

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