Google removes right hand side ads for desktop searches

As reported by Search Engine Watch yesterday, Google will no longer be showing ads on the right hand side of its search results pages.

This change began on 19 February, and now many search results pages are looking a little bare:

phone serp

Google will now just show ads at the top and bottom of search results page. However, it may increase the number of top ads from three to four if the search query is ‘highly commercial.’

In other words, Google is likely to compensate for the lack of right hand side ads by increasing the number of top paid ads for competitive terms.

Dr Pete Myers at Moz has been tracking the changes to ads, and we can see that Google has been testing SERPs with 4 ads on top for some months, before finally making the big change.

Moz chart adblocks

Here’s an example from a search on Google UK today:

flights serp

Of course, the big effect will be that the organic results face a further squeeze. Already, being able to view organic results above the fold for product searches is becoming rarer. This will accelerate the process.

In some verticals, such as travel and insurance, where Google has its own comparison products, organic visibility is even worse.

There are exceptions, a couple of search types where the right hand side will be used.

These are:

  • Searches which would normally trigger Knowledge Graph results

graham greene

  • Product listing ads.

cookware serps

So what does this mean for marketers and users?

Here are some suggestions:

  • More reason to use paid ads (which will please Google).
  • PPC may become more expensive for the big terms. If Google is dropping the right hand ads, that’s because it expects it can make up the difference with the top ad slots.
  • SEO becomes even harder for the big competitive terms.
  • Long tail search becomes more important.
  • Conversion matters. If SEO is hard or you have to pay more, then it’s vital to ensure that your landing pages convert.
  • Branding and retention becomes more important. If people search for your brand rather than the products you stock the squeeze on organic real estate matters less.
  • A poorer user experience on Google? More ads can annoy users, which may be a risk if Google had stronger competition.

In summary

This move fits in with Google’s ‘mobile-first’ strategy, and we’ll see that mobile and desktop searches will bear much closer resemblance to each other in future.

This may be the reason that Google has made the change though, as The Media Image pointed out, the reason is more likely to be falling CTR from right hand side ads.

Also, see this article on Search Engine Watch for more analysis from Larry Kim and others.

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