Earlier this year, it was heavily rumored that Google would be nixing right-rail paid search ads in desktop search engine results pages. And as we saw last month, that rumor proved true. Google rolled out a dramatic, worldwide change that removes ads from the right side of its desktop search results, placing them only at the top and/or bottom of the page. The only exception to this rule are product listing ads, which may occasionally appear to the right of search results. Also new: a fourth ad will appear above search results (as opposed to the typical three) for highly commercial queries (such as car insurance, mortgage rates, home equity line of credit, and other high-value searches).
Out with the rail, in with all things that look and feel mobile. Needless to say, the impending changes to the search engine results page (SERP) display caused a ripple of panic among marketers.
If I were a betting woman, I’d have put my money on a rise in cost per clicks as a result of the new SERP layout, which makes first page results and top spots worth their rank in gold. I was not alone in this theory. The search industry was awash in speculation as to how much CPCs would skyrocket. And everyone seemed at least a little concerned that their Google AdWords strategy was in freefall.
Before placing our bets, however, we waited to see what the data would reveal. A month later, it’s time to look at the true effects of the sidebar’s denouement.
Google’s new SERP display: The good, the bad, and the not-so-bad-at-all
At Smart Panda Labs, we listen to the data. Here’s what the numbers have to say.
- Click through rates are up. Interestingly, according to research by Wordstream, the ad in the third spot—not the new fourth spot—is seeing the biggest boost (15%).
- Traffic and cost per clicks are, so far, steady. CPCs have actually not gone through the roof. One reason may be that, at an advertiser level, large sets of keywords can behave differently than individual keywords fighting for their position.
- Ad impressions are down. Before the change, it was possible for searchers to see up to 11 ads per search results page. Now users see no more than seven text ads, resulting in a logical decline in ad impressions. While this seems like it might be catastrophic for positions 8–11, the damage to advertisers seems minimal. According to Wordstream, this may be because those positions made up only 0.2 percent of all desktop impressions anyway.
- Not all is lost. In fact, lost impressions and clicks can be offset by top and bottom ad positions. With the addition of the fourth top ad spot and up to three ads appearing below organic search results, the change in SERP display is almost more of a reorganization than a slash and burn.
- Pay-per-click advertising for the win. Now all ads, not just top-of-page ads, can use call-out extensions, sitelink extensions and location extensions.
- PPC’s have gone native. Paid ads now appear more native—many searchers can’t tell the difference between organic and paid results.
- It’s a good day for PLAs. Removal of text ads from the right side has given product listing ads a boost, attracting a slightly higher CTR and a larger share of paid clicks from the SERP so far.
Among all of our clients at Smart Panda Labs, from mid-February to mid-March, we saw impressions drop by 18%, a slight increase in clicks of 2%, and a 24.5% boost to click through rates (as compared to Jan/Feb). And as you can see below, recent performance metrics from Kenshoo among their clients also corroborates the trends above.
There is more data to be collected and reviewed, but I’m reasonably certain that the vast majority of PPC advertising will come out on top. I’m also ready to wager on when Bing will follow suit. Given that it took them like four years to add sitelinks, I’m estimating June 13, 2018. Any takers?