Google Nixes Right Rail Ads, Marketers Respond

Feb 24, 2016

The Google ad experience as we know it is changing. The search giant will no longer serve text ads in the right rail of search results. Instead, text ads will appear above and/or below search results. Additionally, users can expect an extra ad-four instead of three-above the search results for what Google calls "highly commercial queries." According to Search Engine Land, Google has been testing variations of this for quite a while.  

What does all of this mean for marketers?

"No question about it. Taking SEO steps to secure your company’s knowledge graph just became even more important. All user attention to that right-side real estate will now go directly to shopping ads and company knowledge graphs," says Ben Kirshner, CEO at Elite SEM.

Dave Ragals, global managing director of search at IgnitionOne, says, "From Google's perspective, these changes benefit searchers by putting more focus on ‘more up to date' results, which just so happen to be paid ads that can be updated nearly instantaneously as opposed to organic results which take longer to impact rankings."

"For advertisers, it means greater pressure to be above the fold, which means higher CPCs," Ragals adds. "While some advertisers may find some value in the bottom of the page results, the CPC spread between positions 4 (for queries that display four ads above the organic listings) and 5 could be significant."

Kirshner echoes this sentiment, saying, "So the paid ads on top of the organic search results will get even more important. Google is moving the first four paid listings to the top of the page, where there used to be only three. I expect a lot of advertisers will make a run for these four spots, because they are far more effective. That could increase the pricing dramatically for a while. Once all clicks are driven to the top ads, CTRs (click through rates) are bound to increase, which will boost overall quality scores and then drive CPC (cost per click) back down. We'll need to watch this closely to see which way it goes."

One thing is clear, many digital marketers are revisiting their Ad Words strategies this week. "You can start by turning off or closely monitoring automated bidding platforms for now," says Kirshner. "Bid tools will be slow to catch up as their algorithms adjust to a new reality; it’s going to take a while for a new baseline to establish. Until then, fluctuations could really undermine your search performance. Going manual restores strategy to the process."

As Search Engine Land pointed out, Google has been experimenting with changes to the right rail for some time. And Kirshner predicts that Google is not done yet. He says, "I expect Google to move shopping ads into the right-rail space that’s now vacant. That could be very good news for e-commerce advertisers, who typically get a higher return from the right rail. The top gets the most clicks, but they tend to be the impulse of window shoppers, whereas the right rail attracts people who study the fine print to make an informed decision. They make their clicks count. From a conversion standpoint, in terms of ROI, the right rail beats the top for e-commerce shopping ads by more than three to one."