Where have all the paid search ads gone? Is this Google’s biggest search results shake-up yet?

If you’ve done a Google search in the last 7 days you […]

paid search changes shock horror

If you’ve done a Google search in the last 7 days you may have noticed something a little different about the search results page. The right rail has ceased to exist!

Starting last week Google slowly started removing the ads that used to live on the right hand side of the search results page (or the right rail).

The only ads you’ll see on Google when searching are 3-4 at the very top of the page, with another 3 at the bottom.

Our reaction

The artists impression below shows the reaction that most people involved in AdWords management had to these changes:

paid search changes shock horror

The impact so far

On initial review it does seem like this might have been a slight over-reaction, we reviewed some of our accounts to see what the impact has been since last weekend.

So far, spread across a selection of accounts that we manage in various industries, we’ve seen:

  • A slight drop off in the number of total impressions served across some of the accounts we manage
  • An uplift in click through rate across the board
  • An uplift in clicks
  • CPC hasn’t moved in the period we compared

On the face of it this data is relatively meaningless as the changes have been in place for less than a week. We conducted our initial analysis across a wide number of accounts simultaneously to try and minimise the impact of any factors related to seasonal demand/budgetary/strategy/other media – but we’re still making changes to each and every account week on week.

Many paid search gurus are still scrabbling around trying to ensure clients are not negatively impacted by the changes, especially those that were pursuing specific positions in the search results pages.

There is bound to be plenty of analysis over the coming weeks and months on the overall impact of these changes and it could be a while yet before we understand the full impact of these changes.

Less positions means higher costs, or does it?

It’s worth noting that these changes now leave advertisers with just 7 potential positions in which to display their ads (3 of which would be in the bottom of the page), this is a reduction from the 11 positions previously available on a single search results page.

Surely this is going to increase the cost of getting your business noticed?

In the long-run we think that this WILL be the case, however the initial impact isn’t likely to result in a direct increase in costs. After-all we’ve now got an extra position at the very top of the page to bid for.

We also believe that the decreased clutter resulting from the removal of the right rail ads may mean that people scan down the page and click through rates actually improve for the ads at the bottom of the page for those advertisers who used to sit in positions 3-7!

Although the cynic in me doesn’t believe that Google would have introduced a change like this unless it didn’t result in a long term revenue upside for them, perhaps this will come in two ways:

  1. Increased click through rates on top position paid ads thanks to slicker integration of paid ads with organic results – the removal of the side bar makes the results page feel like one flowing list and reduces distractions
  2. This reduction in distractions from the side bar and potential increased scrolling may mean that more users reach the bottom of the page and click through rates increase on the lower placed ads

Hidden benefits

Perhaps this change also has a hidden benefit for those businesses pursuing search engine optimisation strategies to catapult their business to the first page of Google – perhaps we’ll see more and more users considering the first page of the search results in their entirety, rather than the top 3-4 results getting the vast majority of the glory.

One thing’s for sure is that the jury’s still out on the overall impact of these changes.