Goodbye Sidebar Ads

AdWords enthusiasts are saying goodbye to the sidebar ads they have been used to seeing over the last 15 years, as Google recently announced their decision to remove them completely from the results page.

Life after sidebar ads will mean a maximum of 7 ads on a results page, made up of 3 or 4 in the top positions, and up to 3 at the bottom. There will be no change to PLA ads, which will continue to float between the top and side depending on the auction.

Whilst testing on this started in 2010,  Google have taken a big plunge into the change, rolling it out across all languages and all markets without much warning to advertisers.

Why Are They Gone?

As yet, there has been no official word as to why this change has been made, so members of the industry have been speculating, with many different theories floating around.

It’s true that the change will bring desktop results closer in line with mobile experience, which makes sense if we look at all the previous steps Google have taken to meld the two. Sidebar ads were really the last remaining difference between desktop and mobile SERPs.

It’s also true that sidebar ads have always suffered in terms of CTR. For me, this is the biggest factor, because if users are not interacting with an element of the Google experience, it makes sense that they would remove it and focus on something that has historically worked.

What does this mean for me?

There’s no need to panic. At 4Ps, we see around 7% of our clients’ traffic coming through ads outside of the top positions. So whilst there will be an obvious impact on desktop traffic with fewer ad spots available, we do not believe the changes will be too drastic.

With fewer spots to compete for, you should prepare for an increase in your CPCs. Our data shows that the cost of shifting ads into the mainstream positions is currently around 10% more, a reassuring statistic in the midst of panic across the industry. It’s also important to note that whilst the number of impressions may drop, they will be coming from the top spots that produce higher CTRs. At 4Ps, we see an average CTR of 12% in top positions vs 1% at the side and bottom – a huge difference that will ultimately impact quality scores.

How should I react?

A lot of the talk following this announcement has been focused around inflated CPCs; however, I don’t believe that is a foregone conclusion. We need to focus more on quality advertising than ever before. Advertisers that focus on improving quality score will be able to counteract the increased competition and continue to achieve the top positions for reasonable CPCs.

User-centric ad copy, relevant landing pages, and an account structure that helps drive relevant traffic to the right areas of your site are all must-haves if you want to succeed in this updated auction place. Now that all ads will take the top slot format, we need to make sure we are fully utilising all ad copy elements. There are no excuses for not having ad extensions in place, and extended headlines should be used to ensure we are achieving maximum impact on each impression.

Successful advertisers are the ones who adapt to new situations, so many of us will likely start looking to increase spend outside of Google if the threat of inflated CPCs continues to loom. This is great news for social platforms and alternative search engines, who will likely all be reminding advertisers about their low CPCs/CPEs over the coming weeks.

In Conclusion

Whilst it will be a sad goodbye to sidebar ads, the PPC team at 4Ps are ready to embrace the change. With more competition for the top positions, higher quality ads and better targeting will be required to achieve them. This is the kind of paid search challenge we love. We’re ready to adapt to the new landscape so our clients continue to see excellent paid search performance.

4Ps isn’t just another PPC management agency. To discuss how paid search strategies are evolving alongside new developments in ad technology and tracking, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.