Now to make matters even more confusing, as of February 22nd Google has announced they will be removing their right rail ads opting for a cleaner approach of 4 ads above organic search results and 3 ads below the organic results on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
While Google hasn't outright said why they have made this change, there are several theories floating around. The first of which according to The Media Image may be because "Google has determined the average click-through-rate for Right Hand Side Ads is poor across verticals, and the expected CPC inflation from this major change is projected to more profitable in the long run." Another theory is that Google is looking to align their SERPs to have a similar UI and UX to that of their mobile SERPs. A final and more devious theory is that Google is limiting the amount of ad real-estate to increase CPC competition and drive up prices, thus earning them more money which of course Google would never do right? ...right?
No matter what Google's reasoning may be, this is the reality that we live in now and like all changes on digital marketing platforms, companies must adapt or face the consequences of poor planning. While that may sound bleak everyone needs to understand that this isn't the end of the world, just a very small change in the big picture of digital marketing. Still concerned? Keep on reading and hopefully by the end you'll see why there's very little reason to be worried.
Don't Abandon Ship
Upon hearing this news thoughts of "search engine marketing is dead" and "Google is useless" may be brewing in your head. To dispel these worries Larry Kim (founder of WordStream) analyzed over 2000 Adwords accounts and found only 15% of ad clicks came from side bar and bottom ads. Keep in mind there is now an additional ad spot at the top. This brings your ads which maybe have previously been relegated that #4 spot on the right hand column front and center, thus giving you more visibility.
Also it should be noted that this change is for desktop SERPs so it only affects half of all search queries (as less than half of searches come from desktop) so realistically less than 7.5% of all queries are impacted by this change.
Be Mindful of Impressions and CTR
A potential pitfall of moving ads above and below organic results is that the ads below the results will technically receive an impression when in all reality users may never even see them. Again, this isn't the end of the world, but if you are typically running ads in the #5 spot or below you might see a drop in CTR, you may even consider dropping ads running below the #4 spot all together.
Pick Your Battles
With only four truly visible spots to fight over, certain verticals will become even more competitive. The most relevant to CVBs and DMOs is bidding on hotel terms. With competition for those top spots from large corporations such as Hotels.com, Priceline, and Trivago, competing from a CPC standpoint may not make sense unless you can actively measure a positive ROI from visits and conversions coming from those ads. Ultimately these people are already lower in the funnel and most likely coming to your destination anyway, so why waste ad dollars on them?
Organic Search Gets the Short End
If you know someone who works in SEO, give them a pat on the back and say something nice to them - they need it. With these changes the current #4 paid position is now where organic position #1 used to live, chipping away at companies' SEO efforts. Additionally some SERPs for certain topics (such as hotels) hide organic results below the fold entirely due to the hotel results module. Now that doesn't mean you should stop all SEO activity, in fact it means quite the opposite as stated in a previous blog post: SEO Isn't Dead. If you weren't serious about maximizing your SEO efforts, now may be the time to double down.
Everything is going to be alright. No matter how sensationalized the blog titles you read are, most marketers will not experience or even notice a difference in their day-to-day processes or spends. Given the small amount of traffic that originates from the right side ads and the opportunity for visibility now in the #4 spot, marketers have little to fear.