Google have been up to their old tricks again by causing a commotion in the world of search with a curveball not many people saw coming!
As of February 2016, Google has made two significant changes to the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). There are now 4 ad positions found on top of the SERPS (previously only 3 at most) and all right hand side advertisements have been removed. The right side of the SERP is now looking a little sad and empty, and surprisingly, everything above the fold is now paid advertising.
Reportedly, Google has been playing around with this change for several months, before rolling it out towards the end of February. It’s caused quite a stir in the PPC world as to what this could mean for paid advertising, and what Google’s motivation was behind the change.
What does this mean for PPC
Thanks to the MozCast data set, we can see during the beginning of February that SERPs containing 4 ad positions at the top of the page accounted for around 1% of all SERPs. On February 18, this jumped to 18.9%, then to 36.45% by the end of the month.
Surprisingly, in this short space of time, SERPS showing these 4 ad blocks now account for more than one third of all top of the page ad blocks.
There’s been no apparent change to the appearance of the ads, only the fact that there are 4 instead of the usual 3. Initial public statements from Google implied the new 4-ad blocks will be mostly occurring on highly commercial searches, but Moz has tracked some exceptions on other phrases such as "global warming," "bible verses," and "habitat for humanity".
Goodbye to right-hand column ads
The timing of the new 4-block ads, and the removal of all advertisements from the right hand column had experts in a frenzy trying to theorise the motivations behind the changes, whether they were related and where Google could be headed from here. In the past, we’ve seen the right-hand column contain up to 8 paid advertising positions, so this change represents a significant drop in overall ad positions available. According to the Moz Cast data set, there is now a maximum of 7 ads per page, with a total ad count of 25,755. If we look back to February 16, there were up to 11 ads on a page and a total count of 43,740 ads. This equates to a 41.1% drop in AdWords ads and leaves us pondering the new direction Google has in their sights.
Where is Google headed?
Experts in the industry were quick to have their say about what their thoughts are on Google’s intentions, and there are a few notable theories worth mentioning.
1. Mobile does not support right-hand column advertisements, so this may be Google’s way of standardising their ads across all devices.
2. Over the years, we’ve seen a few new features pop up within the SERPS which feature in the right hand panel – such as shopping suggestions and knowledge panels. Perhaps this adjustment was to make room for more initiatives of this kind.
This change has been widely viewed as being purely commercial driven. But Google has never been one to sacrifice short term profits at the cost of market share, so we’re excited to see how their plans pan out.