Goodbye, right side. Hello, left.

Google is removing paid ads from the right side of its search landing page on desktops. Paid ads will only appear on top of the organic search results (on the left). 

This is not a full-on divorce from the right. Google's ditching the right side for "highly commercial queries." 

What's that mean? 

Commercial queries where ads are highly relevant and often more up-to-date than organic results. Google will still include product listings on the right. And product-specific searches will still yield price-comparison results — see "Nordic Treadmills" search.

"Google is killing off the dead," Bill Nagel, co-founder and chief marketing strategist at Morrisville, N.C.-based Netsertive, a digital marketing intelligence company, told CMSWire. 

"The right hand column wasn't producing great results, so they’re eliminating it in an effort to make supply and demand more competitive. As mobile search — and revenue — increases, Google is adapting desktop per this shift in consumer behavior. Basically, they’re limiting supply as a way to drive up demand, ultimately to increase ad revenue."  

What Google Says

The Mountain View, Calif. search giant's page can feature up to four paid ads on top of organic results to the left, something Google has been experimenting with the last six years, a Google spokesperson confirmed in an email to CMSWire this morning. Not every single search will produce these exact results, according to Google. 

Google's advertising revenue for the last quarter of 2015 totaled more than $19 billion.  

"We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries," the Google spokesperson said. "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."

screenshot of microsoft product listing page on google

Google will still show Product Listing Ads (PLAs) on the right side of these searches (see Microsoft example). 

"This news puts an increase focus on Google’s Product Listing Ads," Nagel said. "This is a growing business for Google and has been performing well. These aren't common on every search but when they are, they deliver great results. Marketers should be mindful of this as they adapt their strategy in light of this news."

The move actually means less ads. When ads showed on the right side, that could mean more than five total ads on desktop searches. 

Now, Google aligns the mobile and desktop experience: less ads, and no right-side ads, just like on mobile searches.

Then and Now

We all know the traditional Google advertising scenario on searches. Looked something like this:

google page search results with paid ads on left and right side of desktop screen

Now, the more typical commercial search result will look something like this:

google search showing no right side ads

You'll notice on that search only two organic results show above the fold. Paid ads, especially when more up-to-date than organic results, win. So get busy, marketers, on your organic search SEO efforts. It'll be harder to get above the fold on desktops. Less real estate.

"Costs are going to increase while impressions will go down," Nagel said. "Google has been pushing organic results to smaller and smaller areas of the pages for years. Marketers should continue to execute all of the little technical things for SEO, but should recognize that SEO alone isn't enough. The best strategy is to have both an SEO and (Search Engine Marketing) SEM strategy."

Learning Opportunities

Don't Freak, Marketers

bill nagel headshot

Nagel of Netsertive told CMSWire the change does not impact every marketer. 

"Don't freak out," he said. "The first step today should be auditing your individual website traffic and seeing how much search plays in it. This update will impact some verticals and industries more so than others. No updates should be made to budgets or strategies until one knows exactly what portion of site traffic is coming from search, specifically desktop search." 

Brands that commit significant funds toward search marketing, he said, have nothing to worry about. The Google Ad switch impacts “low bidders,” those businesses or brands that don’t have dedicated resources for search marketing. 

"They’ll likely see a dip in impressions and website traffic from desktop search as result of this platform update," Nagel said. 

The right hand Google search column, he said, has long underperformed. 

"We've always emphasized search position and the need to appear within the top 2-3 spots," Nagel added. "If a brand or local business is showing up No. 4 or lower, they’re likely not seeing that many clicks anyway."

CPC Effect

Ben Kirshner, CEO at New York City digital marketing agency Elite SEM, told CMSWire that Cost-Per-Clicks (CPCs) will fluctuate through Google's ad move. Top of page clicks are roughly twice as valuable as their counterparts on the right rail, but tend to cost three times as much, he added. 

"As a result of the CPC roller coaster, mobile’s going to show wacky behavior as well," Kirshner added. "The change is desktop only, but most advertisers will likely ignore the trees for the forest. Shopping impressions are likely to move from top of page to right rail. This is a good thing; top of page has a higher CPC, lower (Conversion Rate Increases) CVR and lower return."

He called ad position No. 4 the new first page bid. Digital marketers can expect traffic volume to grow exponentially from this spot, Kirshner added.

"Branded organic traffic is going to shift to paid," he said. "Make sure you have coverage, and get your knowledge graph game on point."

Title image "google" (CC BY 2.0) by feliperivera