POV

Google Removes Right-Rail Ads in Search Results

Background

In one of the more fundamental changes to its search advertising inventory, Google has removed text ads showing on the right side of desktop search results globally as of Monday, February 22. Additionally, the number of potential ads showing above organic search results will expand from three to four aimed at queries that show strong commercial intent. An outcome from extensive testing of the results pages, the shift will create a better user experience and will allow for search results to look more consistent across devices, with ads strictly above and below organic results.

Note that Product Listing Ads and Knowledge Graph results will not be affected, and can still show in the “right rail.”

Resolution POV:

With less space to work with on mobile devices, Google had historically shown up to two text ads above the organic listings, but expanded to three ads last summer. Right-side ads were also cut from tablet search results in late 2014. A consolidation of text ads in the top position on desktop, then, follows the overall trend.

Google claims that the change will have a limited impact on Google users, but acknowledges that advertisers will see some changes:

  • Less ads means less impressions available. With up to eight right-rail ads being removed, even the addition of a fourth top-position ad isn’t likely to make up for lost impressions. This means that advertisers that had frequently shown below position 3 on desktop are likely to see a decline in auctions where their ads are present “above the fold” – a shift that may impact smaller advertisers that hadn’t historically shown in top positions more than larger advertisers. We estimate that overall impression volume on desktop could decline by 10-20% overall.
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean less traffic. For those advertisers that do bid to the top 3-4 positions on desktop, a search results page with less ads in view means that increases in CTR are likely, along with potential increases in CPCs. For instance, among all Resolution advertisers since late 2015, nearly 95% of clicks came from “top” positions, which Google defines as being above organic results – a stat that applies for desktop and mobile. Moral is, if the vast majority of clicks were already going to the top three ads, the removal of right rail ads shouldn’t have a significant impact on click volume.
  • Measurement of performance deserves a fresh look. Impression Share, for instance, will be impacted as the number of impressions available may decline for certain advertisers. Secondly, while average position will continue to be valuable, Google’s “Top vs. Other” segment will become even more indispensable because the “Other” ad placements will be largely – if not exclusively – below the fold.
  • Keyword strategy also deserves another look. With a good number of “highly commercial” auctions serving four paid ads where before there were three, branded organic listings, for instance, may see a slightly smaller share of clicks. Advertisers should re-evaluate their top-priority keywords and whether they’re getting sufficient exposure in the new search results landscape.
  • Keep in mind that desktop doesn’t have the share that it used to. For all Resolution advertisers, we’ve seen desktop share drop from nearly 84% in 2012 to being nearly equal with mobile clicks in early 2016, at 42%. So, a shift in the desktop ad space will not have the same overall impact than it once did – depending, of course, on a particular advertiser’s device allocations.
  • Product Listing Ads (PLAs) can continue to show on the right side – though they often show above search results as well on desktop. It is reasonable to expect a slight increase in CTR for PLAs as well, then, with the reduction in overall ads on the page.
  • With the removal of paid text ads on the right side of search results, we at Resolution can’t help but notice the sheer amount of white space now available on desktop screens (taken up partially by PLAs on some queries). This could be interpreted as the fulfillment of a simplified, consolidated results page across devices, but also leaves plenty of space and opportunity to show richer results. While Google has not publicly commented on plans to modify the results page, it does seem feasible that new ad units or a re-thinking of how search results display on desktop (and tablets) could be in order – and potentially should be – while remaining true to Google’s historically minimalist aesthetic. We will keep an eye out for testing here, and continue to advocate for innovative search experiences that help our advertisers to connect with their customers.

Resolution will be monitoring developments and impacts to performance closely, and will follow up with more information shortly.