Google Side Ads Eliminated: What Does This Mean for You?

Stuart Donaghy

Mar 01, 20165 min read
Google Side Ads Eliminated

So Google has done away with the right-hand side ads. Just like that.

Probably the most interesting and somewhat shocking news to come from the Google AdWords camp in recent years has hit the forums, and is doing the rounds over social media. It’s been in the pipeline for a while now, and has been looming over many pay per click (PPC) and search engine marketing (SEM) specialists for quite some time.

Well firstly, try to stay calm. All is not lost. This isn’t the end.

I’m a bit of geek when it comes to Google updates and new AdWords features, and unfortunately (for me) my work colleagues and PPC clients all know this. So off course, I was the first port of call when this news broke. I actually wasn’t surprised when the emails, calls and texts started pouring in with question marks galore. I’ve decided to answer a few of the FAQs in the hope I can provide all the information everyone wants and needs at this stage.

What Specific Changes Have Occurred?

  • There are no more right-hand side text ads.
  • There are now four text ads displayed at the top, instead of the previous three text ads.
  • There will be three text Ads at the bottom of the search engine results page.
  • Due to the size of the top four ads, some organic search results will now be below the page fold.

The change, which will see all Google Ads disappear from the right hand side, and leave only four ads (maximum) above the organic results, shouldn’t be a concern for the majority of serious advertisers.

In-fact, this could be superb news for your business! But the key word there is ‘could’ – A minority of advertisers will be negatively affected.

Desktop Google search for 'competitive intelligence.'

Why Did Google Decide to Remove the Right-Hand Side Ads?

I’ve read many views and opinions on this, and I have to say I agree with most of what I’ve read. The short answer though, is that we aren’t 100% sure. Only the global giant Google themselves will know the exact reasons for doing this. The obvious conclusions would be the following:

  • The change increases Google’s revenue.
  • The change allows more space for Google Shopping / Product Listing Ads (PLAs).
  • The change prompts business owners to improve the quality of their websites for organic purposes.

In my professional opinion I’d say it’s a combination of all the above, plus more.

Taking into account eye tracking and google heat map studies, and with reports of non-technical google users hardly distinguishing between ads and the organic results, this adjustment tends to blur the line for such users even more – and in hindsight, side bar ads did tend to stand out clearly as advertisements.

Based on a little research from WordStream Customer Data in January 2016 (which takes into consideration 1000s of accounts across a wide range of industries) I’ve discovered that side and bottom ads only accounted for 14.6% of total clicks.

But wait, when we consider that this change only affects desktop ads, which nowadays accounts for approximately 50% of searches due to the booming usage of mobile devices and tablets, then the actual figure of searches being affected gets halved – to a mere 7.3%.

However, a proportion of that goes towards the bottom ads, so really the % is lowered even further.


Maybe Google just want a cleaner, more organized, less detectable search result. This transition could see the four top ads (plus the bottom ads) get a lot more action than the top + side ads previously, as the ads are now less obvious as ads, and so Google makes more revenue.

The other possible explanation for Google taking this step, as mentioned above, could be that they quite simply want website/business owners to improve the quality of their site for organic purposes. First and foremost, lets not forget Google’s core value is providing users with the most relevant information to a query.

This change will mean businesses now have to take SEO and website content quality a lot more seriously. With the addition of the fourth ad at the top, it means organic results will be pushed down, so essentially its ‘ step up your game’ time if you want to appear above the fold, and on page one in some cases.

How Could These Changes Potentially Benefit Your Business?

Providing your ads were top four prior to this change, and based on heat map studies, advertisers effectively have less competition now, and have a slightly better chance of having their ad clicked.

This coupled with the fact your ads are now less obvious as ads could see a great increase in Click Through Rate (CTR), and as we know, a better CTR can positively effect CPCs, which in turn could potentially improve your cost per conversion.

Again though, until this has been in effect for a while, we wont really know the full extent of the pros and cons to our campaigns. It’s new to everyone, and everyone is in the same boat, so I advise advertisers to remain calm, embrace the change and adapt your strategies accordingly as the impacts become clear.

How Could These Changes Negatively Affect Your Business?

Off course I’d rather not discuss the potentially harmful side effects of this change, however the reality is, for a small minority of advertisers and well ranked organic business owners this could be absolutely devastating news.

  • Many advertisers will have to get more competitive with keyword bids, and ad budgets in order to get a top four spot.
  • For many desktop devices, the number one organic position will no longer be visible above the fold. Being above fold, as most will know, is a huge advantage as generally most users will click on a result above the fold/scroll line.
  • Some organic search results will now be pushed right off the front page of Google onto page two. As many people can imagine and as most digital marketing gurus will know, not many people go to page two – depending on the industry and the search, as much as 85-95% of Google traffic occurs on page one – So dropping to page two could be see businesses lose a lot of traffic.
  • Due to the organic battle that lies ahead, one thing has become a lot clearer, its vital to include PPC in your marketing strategy, if for no other reason than to help retain that first page presence that may be lost (temporarily) for those key search terms that mean the most to your business (due to organic rankings falling).

I’m reasonably confident that the vast majority of Google AdWords advertisers will come out better than before. I’m also fairly certain that some might lose, but that’s always been the case with Google changes.

It could be a case of the strong surviving, flourishing even, and the weak, less experienced PPC advertisers disappearing.

Just keep monitoring your campaigns and adjusting your accounts as needed. Regular management, analysis and optimization is the key over the next few months.

Are you going to adjust your campaigns to cope with this change? Let us know about it in the comments.

Stuart Donaghy is a result-driven digital marketing specialist with over six years' experience in Google AdWords, PPC advertising, social media strategies and SEO. Outside of work he is a budding digital blogger, tech geek, social media enthusiast, keen footballer and avid sports fan.

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