No More Sidebar Ads in Google SERPs—The Ad Auction Just Intensified

No More Sidebar Ads in Google SERPs
Can you hear the fast twang of an auctioneer’s voice echoing in the background? We sure can.

The news broke Friday that Google has formally decommissioned ads on the right side of the search results, and this development is sure to be the biggest news in the Adwords industry this year. The repercussions of this change will have a profound impact on advertisers who hedge their marketing investment towards Adwords, but will have an even more substantial impact on the viability of organic results as a principal marketing channel.

But why, Google? What’s the method and ultimate intention here? There are many questions that will remain unanswered for a few more weeks, but here are a few that stand out to us:

  • To what degree will CPCs be affected for “highly” commercial queries, which may now be showing four ads instead of three?
  • What will happen to all those other ads in the system? How will Adwords adapt to all those ad positions suddenly being deactivated?
  • What will this do to SERPs in terms of UX? We’ve been so accustomed to seeing sidebar ads for so long, what’s next?
  • Just how much more investment in Adwords will it take to maintain strong ad positioning – now that so many other advertisers are entering the arena?
  • What will this do to CTR on organic results? Could we see a huge lift in volume for top rankings? Did the first page of organic results just become more valuable than ever before?
  • How will CTR on Google Shopping ads be affected? How will this affect bidding within Google Shopping now that sidebar ads are gone?
  • How will this change mobile bid adjustments? Will it even affect mobile bid adjustments?
  • How will this impact Auction Insights reporting? Did the competitive landscape just become that much more intense?

A Google spokesperson, who was not specifically named in the latest articles about the situation, did confirm that the change is rolling out to all searches in all languages worldwide.

That’s huge.

On the subject of the fourth ad inclusion in highly commercial SERPs, the spokesperson was clear that Google is making a stride to further monetize high-volume commercial queries:

We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers” – a Google Spokesperson

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Which translates to something that looks like this:


We do know that PLAs (Google Shopping ads) will show either above, or to the side of search results (though we anticipate that format will change as the SERPs settle out). The impact on the position of the knowledge graph, now that a fourth ad may be present in the results, remains unclear.

The big question, which has yet to be thoroughly explored, is the impact the change will have on CTR in organic search. Despite ads being exceptionally prevalent in SERPs for more than a decade, the reality is that organic still captures most of the volume. So now that sidebar ads are gone, which technically makes organic listings more visible (without all that pesky ad sidebar clutter), will there be more clicks on results in organic positions five through 10? Will the top organic result continue to harvest the majority of search volume? Or will the fourth ad position motivate users to scroll down a bit more, and potentially explore the remainder of the SERP? Gauging the impact of sidebar ad removal on organic traffic will be difficult to measure effectively, but it’s logical to consider that there will be significantly more clicks on organic results in lower positions (less distraction from sidebar ads equals more clicks on organic results?). This change could very well put more emphasis on the need to position a domain organically, as opposed to solely relying on ads.  If Google Adwords becomes more expensive as a result of increased competition for top ad spots, SEO could very well become the principal area of focus for ongoing initiatives. Not only does that mean SEO will carry more weight in conversations that were typically dominated by PPC and SMM, it could be a fundamental indication of a major shift in the search landscape. Regardless, long-standing SEO’s are rejoicing…

…and advertisers are now forced to explore how Adwords budgets will be affected in the coming weeks. While the impact on CPCs remains to be seen, expect increased competition as the news spreads and bid strategies begin to adapt.

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