Google has just rolled out a significant change to its search engine results pages. The search engine giant has removed all Pay Per Click (PPC) advertisements from the right-hand side of desktop results pages. It is the first major change to their search results page since April of 2015.
Google’s search engine results will now show between 1-4 PPC advertisements above the search results and between 1-3 additional advertisements below the search results. Google first increased the maximum advertisement count on the top of the page to 4 in December 2015 — a change that wasn’t particularly popular with SEOs because it pushed organic results further down the page. Google says that 4 advertisements will only be used for what it calls “highly commercial queries”.
The SEM Post quotes a number of advertisers who have been told by Google Adwords representatives that the change is “permanent”. Search Engine Land have also received confirmation from Google via email that the change is worldwide and has finished rolling out.
The right-hand side of the search results page will now display one of three things:
- White Space: space is left empty for some search terms.
- Product Listing Ad (PLA) boxes: search ads that include rich product information, including the product image, price and merchant name
- The Knowledge Panel: when searching for a specific person, place, business, famous event or object, Google makes relevant information easy to access via the knowledge panel. Advertisements can sometimes be contained within the knowledge panel.
It’s not the first time that Google has removed right side ads from their search results. They previously experimented with the approach back in 2012, however, decided to return to their traditional layout. Permanent changes to Google’s results page have been a fairly rare occurrence in recent years, however, they are constantly testing user experience updates.
Why Has Google Gone Down This Path?
There is some conjecture as to why Google has dropped advertisements from the right-hand side of their search results pages. Some possible reasons for the change include:
Google are aligning the desktop browsing experience with mobile
Google have made it clear in the past that they are pursuing mobile-centric design. That means they are taking the user experience and design of their mobile products and emulating that approach on desktop computers. There is no section for advertisements on the right side of mobile devices and these new changes to their desktop product reflects that.
More space for Google’s Product Listing Ads
Google has done very well with their Product Listing Ads (PLAs) in recent years.
The additional space on the right sidebar allows them to place large PLAs without making the layout seem overly crowded. On popular product searches, Google is using a large PLA with two rows of four products. The PLAs are well above the fold and Google clearly believes they are a better use of space.
Push Users to Click More Advertisements
When a search result is for a highly commercial term (for example, “buy black socks”), the top 50% of the screen is full of advertisements — 4 Adwords advertisements and Google’s Product Listing Ads. Unless a user is specifically looking for a certain business or the advertisements aren’t appealing, the majority of clicks will be on those ads.
Dr Pete Meyers, marketing scientist at moz.com tweeted some figures indicating that of 10,000 search terms, 6,000 had advertisements. Of those 6,000, 36% displayed 1 ad, 17% displayed 2 ads, 28% displayed 3 ads and 19% displayed 4 ads. These figures suggest that almost half of pages with advertisements will have the top section of the page dominated by Google Adwords — driving users to click ads instead of using organic search results.
What it Means For Businesses
There are two key takeaways from this change for businesses who use Google for traffic.
1) PPC is Even More Important (and more expensive!)
The total number of Adwords text advertisements on each results page has now shrunk from a maximum of 11 to a maximum of 7 (4 advertisements above the search engine results and 3 below the results). That means there is much more competition for advertising space on each page, which will lead to an increase in advertising costs. Businesses may have to increase their PPC budgets and think of clever new ways to maximise the benefit gained from their Adwords budget.
2) High Rankings in SEO is Even More Important
Despite the top of the page being dominated by Adwords advertisements, SEO remains very important. Ranking in the top 3 for a search term will be crucial — those top listings will remain above the page fold for popular search terms that have 3 or 4 Adwords ads dominating the top of the page.
With these changes, it has just become slightly more difficult to maintain a prominent position in Google’s organic search results.