We know Google loves to shake things up and keep us on our toes every now and again but we must say, this latest update has caught us a little off guard. Where was the warning and speculation this time?

Unless you have been living under a rock since last week, you probably know Google has decided to remove all ads from it’s right hand sidebar but what does this mean for those of us running PPC campaigns? Will we have to change our tactics? Is there anything we need to know? Fear not, we have the lowdown for you here…

Google Sidebar Ads

Previously displaying ads 1-3 at the top, 4-8 in the sidebar and ads 9-11 at the bottom of the page, as of February 19th, Google began phasing out sidebar ads, now displaying ads 1-4 at the top and 5-7 at the bottom of the page. Yes, you could say the competition to get on Google’s sought after first page has become that little more intense.

Why did Google remove the ads?

If you regularly read our blogs you will be aware that Google searches on mobile had overtaken desktop searches for the first time ever towards the end of 2015. As this is only expected to increase in 2016, it’s no surprise Google is seeking to create a similar user experience across both desktop and mobile. With consumer behaviour constantly changing, it has become essential for Google to cater to these evolving needs and now, with fewer positions available for ads, it is likely to make the marketplace that little bit more competitive (expect to see advertisers bidding higher to ensure they appear in position 1-4 above the fold).

Google has kept no secret of the fact sidebar ads generally had low click-through rates in comparison to ads at the top (and even bottom of the page) and if users are not engaging with any elements of the experience, it makes sense for this to be removed in a bid to enhance the overall experience.

Will this impact PPC campaigns?

Ultimately, with more competition for the top spots, the biggest impact this may have is advertisers may have to bid more to reach the top spots and ensure they get the right eyeballs on their ads instead of their competitors. Unfortunately, if you have a low budget for PPC and are bidding on popular search terms it is possible you not even make the first page (high volume and general search terms have been the most affected by the update so far). If you find your ad shifting between position 4 and 5, you may end up paying that little bit extra to ensure you remain in the 4 ad spaces above the fold.

It’s too soon to tell but this also begs the question, will advertisers be willing to pay the same for ads at the bottom of the page as they previously had done for ads in the right hand sidebar? Possibly not.

Will this impact organic search results?

In short, yes, it might. Previously displaying only ads 1-3 above the fold, the shift to four ads above the fold means organic search results will now be pushed further down the page (and below the fold on certain screens) which may result in lower click through rates. With this change, Google has increased the number of organic results below the fold (now up to nine links) however industry experts have suggested this may not mean very much in the grand scale of things.

“The only ‘loser’ is organic search which is completely gone from above the fold space on desktop for commercial search queries.”

Larry Kim,
Founder of Wordstream and PPC Specialist

Do we need to change our tactics / do anything differently?

As we have mentioned, be prepared to pay a little extra for your CPC’s. As always, emphasis should be placed on creating better quality ads overall. Fully understanding your user needs and wants will allow you to create user-centric ad copy and target to the most relevant landing page (which has to be of quality).

Top Tip: check your campaigns daily and analyse which keywords work well in helping you reach the top positions. Ensure you add negative keywords to campaigns and separate ‘exact match’ keywords which are working well into their own campaign.

So what’s your thoughts on this so far? Will you change your PPC tactics moving forward? Join in the chat over on Twitter @afterdigitaluk