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Google started rolling out a new search results display at the end of last week which completely removes the right hand column of text adverts.

Ok, so what do we know

Google has switched to 4 full width adverts at the top of the page, none on the right hand side, with an additional 3 at the bottom of the page. This sounds as if they are expanding on the normal mobile layout and using it on the desktop as well.

Google says the change affects search with a ‘commercial intent’. Since that is just about anything you might want to advertise on then that is quite a lot!

Does it matter?

Historically this means that Google is dropping the very thing they started Adwords with, the basic building block of the whole Adwords system was the text advert in the right hand column. Everything else built from that. So from that perspective this is a watershed moment.

The impact is will greatly reduced the potential number of adverts per page. The only up side is that the number of precious top of page adverts has been increased to 4, but this will only benefit an additional 1 or 2 advertisers, compared to the quite a few that used to appear in the right hand column. It is also too early to say whether there are any additional hoops you may have to jump through in order to get to those top slots – it used to be the case that you had to acheive a certain level of click through rate in order to qualify for the elevated top of page positions. This now may be changing, so it may be even more difficult to get these.

Also what seems unusual that this change appears to have rolled out globally very quickly. Almost the whole world and all searches like hotels, restaurants and other typical searches are already affected. Searches for ‘Berlin Hotel’ today on a desktop shows what is decribed as the new normal layout – no right hand side adverts at all, just 4 top of page adverts, followed by a map and a knowledge pack listing. The 10 ‘natural’ organic listings are still there, followed by 3 more full width paid searches.

PLA (Product Listing Adverts) adverts might appear on the right hand side, where the text adverts used to be. On a search that is very specific, like ‘anglepoise lamp’ you will now see 2 rows of 4 PLA’s with images and prices on desktop. This make some sense, especially after Google converted the free product feed to a paid for PPC advert not so long ago. What is perhaps a surprise is that the removal of the right hand text ads is not just for these product specific searches but seems like it is for everything.

We are also seeing some searches where there is now only 1 paid advert at the bottom of the page, or none at all especially after just a few multiple searchs – but that might be a test or unusual result.

What we are also seeing is a variable amount of adverts on pages 2 onwards. Sometimes 3 and 3, 2 and 2, 1 and 3 and various combinations. Again these may be tests but it is really going to shake things up on reporting.

Is this going to cost me…

Google aren’t going to do anything that they think loses them money – so the answer is yes.

Less adverts per page is very likely to lead to increased competition and therefore higher costs per click for the first page.

There are already increasingly more search results pages where the ‘above the fold’ results, i.e. the results you see before you have to scroll, are entirely paid for adverts. This is going to again create a challenge for advertisers as to whether their Adwords spend is acheiving a positive ROI.

We will be monitoring the impact of course, and we will deal with it as best we can, but I can’t help thinking this is a sad day for SME’s trying to do the right thing in Adwords, and a good day for big brands with large budgets.

More information:

The Verge