AdWords Nerd Alert: What Google’s Removal of Sidebar Ads Means for Marketers

Digital Marketing


Stop the presses! Last week, it was reported by several sources, and confirmed by Google, that the AdWords ads that appear on the right hand-side of Google’s search engine results page will be removed from desktop searches in the near future. This change is arguably one of Google’s most significant changes to the AdWords platform since it first rolled out. As a digital marketer, this may also have significant impact on your advertising strategy.

Before we get into how this change may affect marketers, let’s take a look at what the change would look like. Currently, Google search displays their AdWords ads on the right side of the page:

Google AdWords Today

Say goodbye to these!

The only exception to the ads that would be removed from the right hand side will be Product Listing Ads (PLAs):

New Changes

Product Listing Ads, for all your shopping needs.

To make up for the lost ads on the right, they’ll be adding one more ad listing to the top of the search results for a total of 4 available placements.

New Placement

The new look. Seems a shame to waste all that space…

The SEM Post was the first to report these updates and received the following statement from Google:

“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of 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.”

According to some reports, these tests may have been going on since as early as 2010. That’s a lot of data to work with so Google must be pretty confident that this update will be good for their AdWords business. But what about their claim that is will provide “better performance for advertisers”? The short answer to that question is, “We’ll see…” [shoulder shrug]. However, we can make some educated guesses about how the removal of AdWords sidebar ads will impact marketers:

It’s time to pull out your wallet. With less ad inventory available, it only seems logical that the competition for that inventory will increase and drive bids up considerably. And while it’s true that the click-through rates on right-hand side ads are much lower than the top ad placements, they still get clicked on. This change will undoubtedly have a measurable impact on smaller companies. The bids are considerably lower than the top placements and allow new advertisers, or those with smaller budgets, to appear alongside their more well-known and better funded competitors. So while they get less clicks, they still provided the added benefit of impressions for these advertisers.

For better or for worse? While some may debate the value of ad impressions given the difficulties of measuring the impact of just seeing an ad vs clicking on one, we can discount them entirely. After all, companies still spend millions of dollars for a few seconds of time during the Super Bowl for nothing more than ad impressions. And going back to “better performance,” I’m sure advertisers will see better click-through rates on their ads with the new layout since there are fewer options to click on. However, they’ll probably have to pay a lot more for them. Does better CTR but higher CPC mean happier advertisers?

Rethink your SEO strategyThen there is the issue of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for organic search listings. Website owners put a lot of effort into creating quality websites that Google’s algorithm will reward with a top slot in the organic search results. But with an extra ad on top, these organic listings will get pushed further down the page. Will these listings get less clicks as a result? No doubt. The only question is: how much less?

Who’s got the pitchforks?

Is it time to light the torches and head over to the Googleplex and demand answers? Of course not. The change hasn’t been fully rolled out yet and we don’t know what the actual impact will be for advertisers or users. We’ll just have to wait and see and adapt our tactics to get the most return for our ad spend—just as we’ve always done.

What other implications do you think the removal of the AdWords sidebar ads has for digital advertisers? I’d love to hear in the comments below.