Never shy to make changes, Google has made a major shift in the way that pay per click ads appear in search results. Starting in late February, PPC ads have been removed from the right column on all desktop search result pages. At the same time, Google has rolled out an increased number of banner-style ads on some pages, with many SERPs now seeing as many as four above-the-fold banner ads.
The change has many marketers wondering why this change has been made now, its effects on PPC, and what it means for digital marketing going forward.
Why Right Column Ads Died
While some digital marketing experts were surprised by the change, there’s nothing too shocking about Google removing right column PPC ads. Google and digital marketers have known for years that right column ads perform significantly worse than above-the-fold banner ads.
One recent study showed that top-of-page banner ads receive 85% of all clicks. Another study concluded that customers are fourteen times more likely to click on a top-of-page ads compared to sidebar ads on Google search results. According to Google’s Matt Lawson in a recent post explaining the change, users just don’t click on sidebar ads.
The rise of mobile search – which doesn’t allow for sidebar ads in search results – also led to the decision. Google has noticed that more and more users are starting searches on one device and then completing them on another. By removing right column ads, Google has created a more unified cross-platform search experience.
Google’s Expansion of Top-of-Page Ads
To offset the removal of sidebar ads, Google has expanded the number of banner ads that appear above organic search results. Previously the upper limit for the number of above-the-fold banner ads on each SERP was three. Google has increased that limit to four ads per page.
Google claims that this change will only affect “a very small percentage of highly commercially relevant queries.” But some marketers are already reporting that as many as one third of all search results are returning four-ad pages.
While, this might seem like an uneven trade off – five sidebar ads for one banner ad – the difference in click-through rates between sidebar and banner ads is expected to offset this.
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