Have you noticed anything different while searching on Google lately? As of Friday, February 19th, 2016, right sidebar ads are officially no more within the Google search landscape on desktop. This space will now only be reserved for PLAs (Product Listing Ads) and the Knowledge Panel, which gives business information and the like. But more importantly, there will now be an additional ad at the top of the search results page, bringing the total to four instead of three. Google has confirmed that they are testing running four ads at the top for “highly commercial” queries, such as “business cards” or “gym memberships”. Examples of these searches (and the new layout) are below:
It appears that Google has been testing this layout for several years, but it has only recently come to be a permanent change worldwide. Google’s official statement on the change is the following:
“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.”
So what does this mean for us as digital marketers? For Paid Search, it means less available ad space (now seven spots instead of 11), higher competition, and potentially more aggressive costs-per-click (CPCs) for broad, non-brand terms. For SEO, this means that organic results will get pushed further down on the search results page, which could mean a lower click-through-rate (CTR), as well as a greater percentage of total search clicks shifting to paid ads vs. organic results.
As an agency that provides both of these services, we are deciding how best to holistically approach this big change. If we do find in paid search that we see aggressive CPCs, then the strategy will be to monitor impression share as we bid aggressively for terms that we want to show up for. For organic, it will be monitoring CTR and making sure we are as optimized as we can be on the search results page to get the most out of the new layout. If we find CPCs to be too aggressive, we can take a lower ad position and leverage optimized organic results to be present on those terms and aim for an increase in overall search revenue.
To summarize, it is yet to be determined how exactly this will impact both channels, but the best approach right now is to be vigilant in observing overall search performance in the coming days and weeks. We would also recommend to monitor your terms on the actual SERP and consider a tool like The Search Monitor. Make sure to stay tuned for any updates.