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Google drops right-side SERP ads: What does it mean for advertisers?

Last week Google confirmed a significant update to its search engine results page (SERP) with the removal of the right hand side ads on desktop. This change comes as a result of continuous testing in an evolving digital ecosystem and should be deployed in full worldwide this week.

In the new configuration, the desktop SERP layout will more closely resemble the mobile experience where there is no right rail.

A maximum of seven ads will be shown on the desktop – up to four above the organic results and three ads at the bottom. The fourth potential ad on top will be reserved for what Google is calling ‘highly commercial queries’.

The exception to this change is Product Listing Ads, which will remain on the top and right panel on the results page.

The impact for the search marketing landscape is notable. From an industry standpoint, Google is not the only publisher that has been experimenting with the number of ads and placements within the consumer experience.

Facebook, for example, has also adapted its desktop advertising, reducing the number of Newsfeed ads to improve relevance and quality and redesigning its ads in the right-hand column.

As consumer behaviour evolves, it’s important for publishers to consider the user experience, how it can be bettered, and how ads can be most effective.

For the advertiser, there are several implications to consider with this change. With less ad slots available, impression levels will likely decline, and we expect keywords with higher traffic to become more competitive as brands invest in making sure they appear in the top spots. This will be especially significant for head terms; as a result, it is likely CPCs will increase for those spots.

Mobile traffic should not be affected, only desktop. Although impressions and traffic may decline, expect clicks and overall click-through rates (CTR) to increase as ads on the top of paid search results have historically received significantly higher CTR than ads on the right.

Advertisers should keep an eye on performance and adapt their strategy as key variables like click volume, CTR, and CPC may fluctuate for their keywords as a result of this change.

The true impact of the Google ad move is yet to play out.

Investments into the Kenshoo bid management platform and its underlying algorithms have been made to adapt to the continuously changing search experiences by better incorporating impression share and minimum first page bid.

Brands and agencies deserve a search advertising model that focusses on getting the best performance from digital marketing budgets across key publishers such as Google. Marketers should ensure their platforms and partners are on top of the latest industry changes so they can best adapt and stay ahead in a dynamic landscape.

Kelly Wrather

Kelly Wrather joined the Kenshoo team in 2011, drawn to the fast-paced nature of the digital industry and the culture of innovation, evident at Kenshoo. As the Senior Manager of Content Marketing based in Chicago, Kelly helps bring the Kenshoo story to life and make sure the company's clients’ stories of success are celebrated. Prior to joining Kenshoo, Kelly worked in display/RTB advertising, helping launch the Accuen brand, the trading desk of Omnicom Media Group. A graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, Kelly spent here Boston days racking up experience in public relations at Cone and content/online community management at a small consulting group.