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Google Reducing Right Hand Rail Ads for Desktop Searches

Hold onto your hats, paid search managers.

Rumors have been swirling around the PPC community today that Google reps are communicating to advertisers that they are in the process of reducing/eliminating right hand rail ads from desktop searches. Instead, ads will only be shown in the center of the search results page, above and below the organic links.

Early data from Merkle advertisers confirms that ads appear to be showing less often on the right hand rail, including for this major online retailer:

As you can see, the share of desktop non-brand traffic coming from the right rail declined yesterday while the share coming from ads below the organic results increased. The increase in traffic share from ads below the organic links indicates Google is shifting ads that were being shown on the right rail to the bottom of the page.

Aside from changes to the right rail, there is also talk of Google increasingly showing four text ads at the top of search results, as Moz’s data is showing a significant increase in the number of SERPs with top ads that feature four text ads:

Our results also suggest a large increase in the share of searches returning four text ads, with traffic share from text ads in the fourth positon at the top of page approximately doubling since Wednesday.

Could Lead to Big Changes in Performance for Advertisers

Obviously these changes are pretty significant in terms of the visual appearance of the SERP, and will likely impact advertiser performance.

The extent of the impact on available impressions is a bit difficult to guess at the moment with the increase in the number of text ads showing at the top of the SERP and the evidence of Google increasingly showing ads below the organic results. However, there will likely be fewer available ad impressions on the first page of results in aggregate if ads stop showing on the right rail completely.

If impressions decline, we would expect average positon to move up the page as ads fall off of the first page of results.

As ad traffic should shift to the ads featured at the top of the page, we expect higher aggregate CPCs as ads that show in lower positions (and have lower CPCs) either fall off of the page or are shifted below the organic results, where they are less likely to be clicked.

However, the early data does show ads featured below the organic results picking up a lot of traffic, which could limit the aggregate impact to CPC. This is shown in the advertiser data above in which the share of traffic coming from top ads increased slightly over the past two days but the share coming from ads at the bottom increased more dramatically.

Deja Vu for Advertisers

These are exactly the trends observed in Mark Ballard’s analysis of changes Google made to search results beginning in 2014.

To summarize, first page minimum bids skyrocketed in the second half of 2014, resulting in fewer impressions on Google.com and higher CPCs for advertisers. At the same time, average positon moved further up the page as ads began falling out of the search results.

It will likely be more of the same for advertisers if the trends observed this week hold.

As always, stay tuned to our blog for in-depth analysis of how these changes are impacting paid search performance in the days and weeks to come.