Google’s Take On The Recent Changes To The Results Page

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Google (my employer) recently removed text ads from the right-hand side of search results. At the same time, it’s now possible for four ads to show above the organic results, albeit on a very small percentage of highly commercially relevant queries.

Combined with the ads that appear below the results (which are unaffected by this change), a maximum of seven text ads can show at any one time. This is down from the previous maximum of 11 ads when including that right rail.

Ultimately, we are making this update to improve the user experience on Google Search and to make that experience consistent across desktop, tablet and mobile. In fact, the majority of our searches happen on mobile these days, which has no right-hand-side ads.

Over time, we’ve found that text ads on the right rail were simply less useful than we’d hoped. In direct terms, users didn’t click on them as much as other ads — and when users don’t click on things, we take that to mean that something wasn’t what they were looking for.

By showing fewer ads, our search experience matches how people actually engage with Google. And, because ads above the results are generally more useful, we’re expanding them for highly commercial queries. (Interestingly, as an aside, PLAs demonstrate strong user interaction when they’re on the right side, so they’re staying put.)

Our experience on mobile, as well as extensive testing on desktop, led us to the conclusion that this change would benefit our consumers who increasingly search across devices. And that testing has given us lots of data about how this change impacts ad performance. While every advertiser and campaign is different, there are a few things the data show.

What The Data Show

1. In aggregate, this change is neutral for small advertisers.

Some people have expressed concerns that this change will adversely impact small advertisers. Their thesis is that a reduction in ad slots means that smaller companies are priced out of what’s left.

We worried about exactly the same thing, which is why we tested this change so extensively before rolling it out. The good news is, since the launch of the new layout, small advertisers as a whole haven’t seen much of a change in clicks.

2. This change isn’t disrupting auction behavior.

As you know, AdWords is an auction. There’s no way to guarantee how people will react to this change, but based on all of our experiments and the early returns from this launch, there have been no appreciable changes to costs-per-click in aggregate.

Other people have also analyzed this in great detail and concluded that the vast majority of PPC advertisers are better off. That was the intent of this change — more useful results without being disruptive to advertiser performance.

Taking Action In A Post-Right-Rail World

Regardless of how these changes impact advertisers broadly, what’s important is that you understand how to manage campaigns specifically for your accounts. Luckily, it’s pretty straightforward, and you’re probably doing most, if not all, of the right things already.

1. Monitor your reporting.

If you haven’t yet, take a look at your performance reports segmented by Top vs. Other. You can compare a period of time since this change took effect to a similar period in early February or before. The percent of clicks or conversions that you get from those right-rail ads should be small. In general, you can expect the most significant decrease in your impressions metric.

If you see something aside from CTR going up and impressions going down in those segments, do some diagnostic work and try to understand what might be causing your account to behave against expectations.

(Note that right-hand side text ads have been removed from Google.com ads alone — they have not been removed from search partners. You shouldn’t see any change to whatever traffic you drove from them before.)

2. Keep an eye on your bids and budgets.

Notice I said “keep an eye on,” not “increase.” Please don’t overreact to this change and get your bids out of whack with where they should be. Keeping an eye on your average position, especially segmented by Top vs. Other, can be particularly insightful. Bid to the performance you want to see; don’t overreact and bid to any theoretical auction pressures.

One important consideration here, though, is if you’re close to a daily limit in any of your important campaigns. You very well might be driving more clicks than you’re accustomed to from ads in position four. As a result, you may need to bump your daily budgets up to ensure you capture as many profitable clicks as possible.

3. Enable all extensions that make sense for you.

Top ads are eligible to show more extensions, and those same extensions can also show at the bottom of the page. Now that text ads on the right rail are gone, each opportunity you get to display an ad is an opportunity to show a helpful ad extension. Investigate all of them and add any that you might be missing.

One subtle part of this change to the results page has to do with sitelinks. Two-line sitelinks will show instead of sitelinks with additional detail, in most cases. This means that you’re more likely to have four links with no supporting text than two links with details underneath those links.

Sitelinks with additional detail are still eligible to show when you’re the only ad above results (which is often the case on things like brand terms), so you should definitely continue to include those details, as well. Practically speaking, you should add plenty of sitelinks so that the system can choose the optimal combination for you.

4. Continue to focus on writing great ads.

The recent change to the results page doesn’t affect your ad quality measurements. Your position on the page is factored into expected CTR, and each ad is going to continue to be evaluated with position taken into account.

5. Refine your AdWords targeting if increased competition becomes an issue.

As I mentioned above, AdWords remains an auction. If competition changes behavior in a particular auction, either because of this change or because of any other reason, there could be instances where your ads aren’t in your desired positions.

If that happens, consider focusing your efforts on higher-value customers by using features like Remarketing Lists for Search Ads or Customer Match.

Conclusion

Collectively, it’s worth taking a deep breath and saying goodbye to right-hand-side ads. We know that we make changes to the results page quite frequently as search and user behavior evolve, and it can be a lot to keep up with. But this change shouldn’t make things hard for you.

Once you segment your reports and see how the traffic has changed for you, the handful of straightforward actions described above should keep you on the right track.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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