Published: 23 February 2016

Competition looks set to increase amongst Google Adwords advertisers, as the number of ad slots available on search results have been slashed. The digital marketing team at sagittarius have been leading the way in sharing and analysing the news.

Online media such as Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land have both revealed that Google Adwords are phasing out the right hand column of ad positions on all desktop search results worldwide. This mirrors the formats of ads already on mobile search results.

Google spokespeople have apparently confirmed that SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) will instead feature 3-4 ad slots across the top of results and a second set at the bottom of the page. The only exception are PLA campaigns (Product Listing Ads, formerly Google Shopping) which may still show in a right hand panel. In addition the Knowledge Panel will continue to display, including address and reviews content.

If this change is fully rolled out it will have a major impact on many PPC advertisers. We’ve taken an initial look at some of the key issues to consider:

  • Short term, there will probably be a drop off in traffic if your market is reliant on desktop search as opposed to mobile, then a bidding war may drive up cost per click as advertisers attempt to regain lost clicks.
  • Medium term, enlightened advertisers will realise that only a high Quality Score will help them gain a top 3-4 ad rank, not inflated bids. So expect a refocus on ad relevance, campaign structure and landing page quality.
  • We would expect the top 3-4 slots to see a degree of advertiser rotation so advertisers will need to focus on boosting ad engagement and click through rate as another way to earn a top slot. So that means all utilising potential Adwords ad extensions such as site links and callouts, as well as feeding review stars from platforms such as Feefo.
  • The way that ads are written may need to be adapted. If the narrow column format is going then description lines won't get truncated across two rows. Advertisers can exploit this by crafting longer more fluent ads as the two description fields are conjoined in a top 4 ad slot.
  • If not already using them, PLA campaigns could become more attractive. This may require development work to enable your website to create an outbound shopping feed.
  • There could be a trend towards less competitive longer tail search terms as the high volume and most competitive generic terms are abandoned by most advertisers who just can't break into the top slots. Also expect increased use of bidding on competitor brand names in the search for replacement traffic.
  • There could be an SEO impact on organic search, with the 10 organic results being pushed down one place or 10 organic slots being reduced to 9, or previous Adwords advertisers coming back to SEO as a means of replacing traffic.

In summary, if this rollout is truly worldwide and permanent then it changes the landscape for many PPC advertisers. However, there should be a range of measures which can be taken to reduce impact. And as with any major change such as this, it could actually create opportunities for some well prepared advertisers.

For a review of the potential impact on your Adwords account please contact the Digital Marketing team at Sagittarius.
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