Changes on Google: What are the Implications of Removing Right Hand Side Ads on Search?
Google makes a change and an industry holds its breath. What will this mean for my clients? Cost increases? Do I re-build? Everybody freak out. Or not. I argue here that the latest change on Google search – to remove right hand side search ads – is an opportunity for your clients, and an opportunity to produce better work on your paid search campaigns. What this is in essence about is mobile and relevancy. Your ad doesn’t make the top 3 or 4 results? Well perhaps then it shouldn’t be at the top of search results, over-riding the impact of more relevant organic listings, or perhaps you need to work on the quality of your ads and keyword selection to make it into the top 4.
Not only will this make organic listings more visible, but I believe it will also enhance the relevancy of paid ads on Google, improving the overall usability of the world’s largest and most popular internet search engine.
What it means for usability and SEO
It’s important to remember that at the core of Google’s business are their users. Why do people use Google search? Because it helps them find relevant things online. There is an art to this, in particular when integrating advertising directly into what people are looking for. It’s always been clever. However the experience on Google search should not be disrupted by too many ads, as doing so also disrupts the experience of the user. Ads should be smart and minimal, so as to maximises their impact when displayed in search results. By reducing the number of ads displayed at the top of search results, it means that users will only see the top 3 or 4 most relevant ads followed by the most relevant organic search results, no longer distracted by potentially less relevant right hand side ads. And by placing such an emphasis on the top 4 it will only work to enhance engagement with these ads. Assuming the integrity of Google’s quality score and ad rank system is intact, this is an opportunity.
In a mobile first world…
There is a practicality aspect to this change. You can’t see right hand side ads on your mobile, and so this change somewhat unifies the results we see when we search on mobile with what we see on desktop. This move is very much in line with Google’s emphasis on micro-moments, being there in those moments that matter, when people are searching and viewing content that matters to them.
By creating a unity between what we see on mobile and desktop it also means that data can be understood more coherently. The discrepancy between what you could see on mobile and desktop has meant that in terms of analysing results a completely different set of variables had to be considered, being in position 4 or 5 meant something completely different on desktop as opposed to what it meant on mobile. This creates a consistency between mobile and desktop that will change the way we look at and understand our search data.
Cost, CPCs, and average position
While we can still only speculate, it seems logical that with fewer ads being displayed at the top of search results, cost per clicks (CPCs) will increase. However, others have suggested that because there are now 4 ad positions available at the top of the page, it may actually mean lower costs as more impressions and visibility are now available for the top 4 ads, whereas before the focus was on the top 3 ads, the right hand side ads usually showing much lower engagement anyway. Time will tell, but I’ll be watching my CPCs closely.
In terms of average position, this change has huge implications for how we optimise our search campaigns. It is now more important than before to achieve an average position of at least 3, if not higher, as appearing at the bottom of the page is likely to yield poor results. For small to medium businesses this may be difficult as they may not have unlimited budget, but that does not mean that all hope is lost, it just means that your account manager has to get smarter with their strategy. Establish what time of the day, day of week, is most important to appear, establish exactly when and where your high value customers are searching, and ensure that your budget is funnelled in this direction. Be sure to work on landing pages, make sure that your most valuable keywords have a 10 out of 10 quality score, and trim those keywords that are not working for your brand – low quality scores, low average positions, high cost, and low conversion rates. Focus on what works, get rid of all waste.
The implications for grant accounts
This is the one area with potentially dire consequences. The grant account program is a great initiative by Google, allowing not-for-profits to advertise on Google by granting them up to $40,000 per month to spend on Google search. It’s a mutually beneficial program as it is of course in Google’s interest that the most relevant ad appears against any given search query – and if this pertains to a charity or cause, then an ad from a not-for-profit should be given the chance to appear in the top spot.
However, one of the limitations of grant accounts is a max bid of $2. This could mean, in terms of gaining the top 4 positions, not-for-profits will be outbid and will not – or be unlikely to – appear in those top positions, especially where competition is high. Again, if this applies to your sector, not all is lost. Your first point of call, as outlined above, will be to work on quality scores. Working on landing pages is now a must. A second strategy – if some media budget is available – is to invest in a parallel paid search strategy. Using the grant account to experiment and identify the best times to appear, and then selectively shifting keywords into a paid account.
Don’t let this change get the better of you. This is an opportunity to shape up your search strategy and get ahead before anyone else. At the end of the day, the better the usability of Google search for its users, the more likely they are to continue to use Google as their preferred search engine, and the more likely they are to continue to see search ads and to engage with the content they are exposed to on this platform.