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As of Feb. 19, 2016, Google has stopped displaying text ads in the sidebar for desktop searches. The total number of text ads that can appear on a search engine result page, also known as a SERP, has shrunk from as many as 11 to a maximum of seven. The new layout incorporates up to four text ads above organic listings and a maximum of three at the bottom of the page. No text ads will be served on the right rail of the search results on desktop.

While this may come as a surprise to some, Google has been testing and tweaking this layout structure since 2010, albeit for a limited subset of queries. The test was expanded to included a broader set of search queries until the announcement last week that the change is rolling out to all search pages worldwide, in all languages.

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

This update culminates the alignment of mobile and desktop experience with two exceptions:

  1. Product listing ads
  2. Knowledge panels

What Does This Mean for Advertisers?

SEO Implications

With Google’s revised AdWords layout, up to 80% of the page above the fold will now be occupied by sponsored listings, leaving only three spots for natural organic results. The benefits of having, or investing in SEO couldn’t be emphasized more. If you’re not ranking in the top three natural listings for highly commercial queries, now is the time to bolster your SEO efforts. Revisit your citations to ensure your listings are accurate. Update information as necessary.

Your Bigcommerce store is built from the ground up for better search engine rankings using search-friendly themes, optimized URLs, automatic sitemaps, microdata and more. You also have full control to customize your URLs, titles, header tags and metadata.

Leverage the technology at your disposal to optimize your homepage for high-level queries relevant to your target market (shoes, boots, footwear, etc.). Next, drill down and focus on more specific category level keywords (such as running shoes, casual shoes, chelsea boots, etc.). And finally, for your product pages, optimize the page title and description to include your product’s name, brand, part number and variant information (size, color, material etc.).

PPC Campaigns Targeting Search Network

According to a study, ads above organic listings receive up to 14x more clicks than the same ad on the right hand side. Without sidebar ads, advertisers would now have to compete for the top positions. While this could potentially increase CPC upfront, an increase in click-through rates for high-ROI terms should compensate for the additional spend as other advertisers get pushed off the first page.

Increase visibility on the first page of Google search results or in the top positions by leveraging Google’s Target Search Page Location bid strategy. With this strategy in place, AdWords automatically raises or lowers your bids to show your ad on the top of the page or on the first page of Google search results. Keep in mind: placement isn’t guaranteed. Final placement is ultimately determined by the outcome of the ad auction, which is influenced by your competition and Quality Score.

To set up this bid strategy, log in to your AdWords account, click on Shared Library in the left hand curtain and then click on Bid Strategies. Next, click the + BID STRATEGY button and select ‘Target search page location’.

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Once configured, you can apply this strategy to a campaign, an ad group, or even a single keyword, overriding the default bid settings for a given campaign.

Product Listing Ads

PLA boxes will continue to show above or to the right of search results, and there may be ads in the Knowledge Panel. Focus more on the PLA format if you can’t compete in the regular paid search auction.

Benefits of the New Structure

The shift in AdWords layout extends beyond sidebar ads: Google rolled out additional changes that should benefit paid search. For example, now all ads can use call-out extensions, site link extensions, location extensions, etc., which were previously only a benefit of top-of-page ads. And the remaining ads appear “more native” which may have additional benefits.

In quantifying the impact of this, we should also note that the change is for desktop only, where the right sidebar ads accounted for only 7.3% the total traffic.

Basically, keep calm. This is a net positive for paid desktop search.

Photo: Flickr, Open Grid Scheduler

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