With Right Side Ads Gone on Google, Was it Disaster as Predicted?

Publisher Channel Content by
Wordstream


google search

It’s been about a month since Google confirmed the death of right sidebar ads for desktop search results. Immediately following the change resulting in right side ads gone from Google search results, a hot topic of rampant speculation throughout the search industry was how much CPCs would skyrocket.

adpocalypse-end-is-near

Here’s just a sampling of comments on the change with right side ads gone, from Search Engine Land’s Facebook page:

  • “One thing’s for sure: Google wouldn’t have rolled this out if they weren’t sure they would make more money this way. Less ad-space, more earnings … you figure out what this means for CPC.”
  • “This will raise costs for advertisers, squeeze-out advertisers who a) can’t afford the higher competition and/or b) can’t figger [sic] out how to raise their Quality Scores, and send many advertisers to Bing/Yahoo, FB and other social-media platforms.”
  • “Going to raise cpc costs across the board.”

Even Perry Marshall cried “DANGER,” calling it the biggest Google AdWords shakeup in more than 10 years and warned: “Your strategy for Google AdWords is going to totally change.”

Well, now it’s nearly a month later, and the data actually shows a very different story — and by different, I mean the same. Very little has changed.

What HAS and HAS NOT Changed With Right Side Ads Gone

We’ve updated our proprietary data on the effects of the SERP shake-up (see full details on our data sources at the end of this post).

Click-Through Rates (CTRs) are Up

click-through rates with right side ads gone

As the data from thousands of WordStream accounts spanning all industries shows, click-through rates (CTRs) are up. No real surprise here.

It was expected that having a fourth spot above the organic results would mean more ad clicks. The surprise, as I discussed last month, was that the ad in the third spot, not the fourth, got the biggest boost from the new desktop SERP layout.

Costs Per Click (CPCs) are Static

Here’s one dire prediction I saw on Twitter: “No right side ads = hello 3x increase in CPCs.” Many marketers feared less ad space would result in CPCs going through the roof.

Well, this is why smart marketers don’t base their strategies on predictions. Because the data tells the actual story:

CPCs down with right side ads gone

CPCs haven’t jumped, let alone by 3x.

If anything, costs per click have gone down some with the right side ads gone, as shown in the chart above.

Traffic is Steady

More good news for PPC marketers: click volume, for the most part, has been steady. There have also been some modest wins:

Click volume steady with right side ads gone

So we’re looking pretty good, right? CTRs are up, and clicks are mostly constant. Does that mean impressions are down?

Impressions are Down

Before the change, it was possible for searchers to see up to 11 ads per search results page. Now, with right-side ads gone on desktop, Google users will see no more than seven text ads.

So yes, this change has resulted in a decline of ad impressions. The loss of desktop impression share mostly affects those who appeared in the eighth position and lower:

adpocalypse-impression-share

Although this chart may look kind of catastrophic for those below position 7, it really isn’t a huge change. Why? Because positions 8 to 11 made up a mere 0.2 percent of all desktop impressions:

share-of-all-desktop-ad-impressions

A Quick Note on Averages

There has been some noise lately about how averages don’t tell us anything useful for strategy in PPC because every advertiser is different. I disagree. As long as you’re using proper math — checking the sample variance and standard deviation for your data set to make sure the variance isn’t too high — averages can tell you a lot, because the vast majority of advertisers will fall into the standard distribution. More on this here.

Anatomy of a “Loser”

Every change to the Google SERP has winners and losers. If a win in this case means higher CTRs, lower/steady CPCs and steady/more traffic, what does a “loser” look like?

In an effort to provide a thorough analysis, we set out to find examples of accounts that truly suffered as a result of Google’s removal of right ads from the desktop SERP.

It wasn’t easy. After poring through tons of accounts and data, however, we finally managed to find an interesting example from the financial industry. So let’s take a quick look at the “struggles” of one advertiser.

Prior to the change, they had an average position of 8.6 on desktop. After the new SERP rolled out, they got killed, losing 80 percent of their desktop impressions:

adpocalypse-loser-impression-share-killed

But here’s where it gets interesting. Their CTR more than doubled:

adpocalypse-loser-ctr-doubled

As a result, the advertiser only lost 15 percent of their desktop clicks, which fell from 26 to 22:

adpocalypse-desktop-clicks-loss

Also interesting is that this advertiser saw CPC increase from $0.53 to $0.69:

adpocalypse-cpc-increase-loser

But wait! It gets even more interesting, because their average position went from 7.5 to 4.3 after the change.

adpocalypse-average-position-up

So, overall, not a terrible deal for this “loser.” This advertiser is now paying $0.16 more per click, but it’s for vastly more valuable space on the SERP.

The fact that an advertiser with an average position of 8.6 didn’t get wiped out — especially considering Google eliminated ad positions 8 through 11 from the SERPs — is of major significance.

What does it mean? Well, it leads me to believe that Google is sharing the impressions a little bit, as opposed to using a “winner takes all” approach.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet

Okay, so here’s what we now know about what was overhyped as the most dangerous change Google has ever thrown at us:

  • Most advertisers are responding well to the change resulting in right side ads gone.
  • Advertisers’ metrics seem to have mostly balanced out so far.
  • Traffic and CPCs have remained relatively flat.
  • The losers are those who were at the bottom (positions 8–11). But even then, it’s nearly impossible to find examples of advertisers that have been totally and utterly annihilated.

Finally, it’s important to remember that this change is exclusive to desktop. Regardless of how you spin the numbers, it’s clear that desktop is becoming less of a focal point for Google:

adpocalypse-mobile-focus

Remember, brave search marketers: The only thing we have to fear is uninformed speculation. Don’t panic whenever Google changes something. Be patient. Collect and analyze your data. React smartly.

This wasn’t the first huge change we PPC marketers have lived through. And it definitely won’t be the last!

Data Sources:

This report is based on a sample size of about 2000 client accounts representing small businesses and medium businesses (SMBs) in all verticals in English-speaking countries worldwide (including the United States, Canada, UK, Ireland, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand), advertising on the Google AdWords search network (desktop only) in the date ranges indicated on the charts.

Google Search Photo via Shutterstock

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Larry Kim


Larry Kim Larry Kim founded WordStream in 2007. He serves as company CTO and is the author of 4 Award-Winning Books on Software Development. Larry also blogs at the WordStream Blog and practices photography in his spare time.

2 Reactions

  1. I work with a couple non-profits using a Google Grants accounts and they have both seen significant improvements in CTR. Even though Google said the change would only be for commercial queries, it seems quite universal and for many Grants account it looks like moving from the right side to the main column has been a big help.

  2. Didn’t really notice the side ads are gone until I read this article. As a user, I don’t like this roll out at all. I only want organic search results, not these ads. There goes “In Google we Trust” as I’m not so sure anymore.

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