Google Drops Right Side Ads on SERP in Favor of 4 Ads on Top

In the most dramatic change to its desktop Search Engine Results Page (SERP) since the 3 Pack Local Maps Update in July of 2014, last week (February 19, 2016) Google announced it has dropped Adwords ads from the right sidebar of the SERP in favor of displaying 4 ads at the top of the results page for “highly commercial” search queries.

Examples of “highly commercial” queries may include “hotels in Atlanta” or “liposuction” or any case where the searcher’s intent may be to purchase a product or service.

Google SERP Update - Adwords 4 Pack - Hotels

Google had been testing four ads on top of the search results for several years now, and according to Search Engine Land blogger Ginny Marvin, she wrote Google in December 2015, inquiring about users noticing the removal of the right-side ads, and Google’s response was that it was only testing, and the layout would not be permanent. That sentiment on permanence changed last week.

The right side of the SERP will now be used for Product Listing Ads, and Knowledge Graph Boxes for qualifying queries.

Google Knowledge Graph Right Sidebar

What Does This Change Mean for Marketers?

The Organic Impact

While the actual number of ads that may show for commercial search queries drops from 11 to 7 with this layout change (4 on top of the local and organic results, 3 at the bottom), this update will likely have a negative impact on traffic that organic results will receive.

The number of organic results will remain the same, but now user have to scroll past the block of paid ads at the top of the page (and any local listings) to view the organic results, which will be pushed further down the page due to the additional paid ad.

The Paid Search Impact

While we only have a very small sample size to date, we expect a 4th ad on top and the elimination of right side ads to increase average Costs Per Click (CPCs), as advertisers vie for top-four placement. Increasing CPCs, of course, will have a trickle down effect on PPC budgets, likely reducing the number of clicks, impressions, and conversions advertisers would normally expect from their existing budgets.

The use of PLAs will also be of importance to ecommerce advertisers, as product ads will remain on the top of the search results and in the right sidebar for qualifying queries.

Adwords Product Listing Ads

What are your thoughts on Google’s latest SERP update? Have you noticed a dramatic shift in your Adwords campaign performance or organic search traffic? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!