Side Out – Google Changes Selected Paid Search Results by Eliminating Side Bar Ads
What Is the Side Out Format?
For certain query types, Google is going to replace the listings traditionally that show up on the right side bar and place them at the bottom of the page. An example of this new layout is shown on the Google Blog.
Like a volleyball player on the beaches of Southern California, Google is calling “Side Out”! In addition to the new “recency” algorithm changes that are impacting SEO results, Google announced a phased rollout of a new paid search format that changes where paid search listings appear on desktop and mobile search results pages. The rollout is slow—searchers may or may not see the changes during their casual perusal of their favorite phrases. But it is coming, or at least, being tested. The new format will impact CTRs, pricing, and effectiveness of paid search programs. The point of this POV is to describe our views on what the importance of this change is.
Note, advertisers (and their agencies) will not be able to directly control this. Much like all ads on Google, bottom ads will be placed based on bid strategy and Quality Score—but not for a targeted bid position. The appearance of Google Maps on particular queries may impact placement, but it is unclear exactly how this will play out on an impression-byimpression basis at this point. So a strategy to bid on position “4” in the past may result in Side or Bottom ads.
Why is Google Making This Change?
There are two reasons for this change—one technical and one tactical. The technical reason is that Google is aligning the way the search results pages work for desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. This format for results has been used on mobile in the past. Due to the spacing and usability of mobile phone screens, Side ads are not desirable or renderable in many cases. The tactical reason is that Google indicates click through rates for listings at the bottom of the page actually are better
than those at the side of the page.
Google offers a capability to evaluate CTRs based on page placement within AdWords. The system traditionally allowed users of AdWords to see the comparative CTRs of Top versus Side ads. Google indicated that the bottom of the page ads will be listed as “Other” in the system, where Other will include both Side and Bottom ads, so the specific effectiveness of the new format will be hard to test. The only way this can be done is if it is know that certain keywords consistently are showing up in the bottom listing. AdWords is not providing that information now.
When asked about this, the Google team that works with Covario indicated that Google “may” be updated in the future as this change is rolled out more widely, but there is no commitment on timeframe.
What Does This Mean?
There are a number of ramifications to this change—most of which depend on whether Google’s statement that CTRs at the bottom of the page perform better than Side ads. So that is the critical factor.
First, this all comes down to CTRs. We did a quick study to see the difference between Top and Side ads for a numberof keywords. The average desktop CTR on Google Search (no partners) for Top ads is 3.3%. The CTR for Side (or Other) ads is .16%. No big surprise there—the value of being in the prime real estate is well known. So the question
is whether the Bottom ads will beat an average .16% CTR. As stated above, testing this appears to be harder than it
needs to be, since AdWords is not breaking out Side vs. Bottom ads in AdWords. However, if an advertiser (or theiragency) can identify a set of keywords where the ads consistently are being served at the bottom of the page, then this can be tested, albeit manually.
If the CTRs are better than .16% (or the appropriate equivalent for a particular advertiser) on the first page, then the
question comes down to CPC, and whether there will be a non-linear impact on CPCs. This is also unknown at this
time, and Google makes no comment, believing that the market is rationale and that advertisers will bid commensurate with the value delivered—a fair assumption.
More significantly, if the CTRs are over .16% on average, advertisers should embrace this change. It will create
standardization between the device types, a more consistent way to evaluate PPC, and in the end, better ways to target PPC for response. Google has made it clear that dominating mobile advertising and operability is its most critical strategic objective, and this is part of that strategy. As we stated, there are two drivers for this change to PPC: trying to drive better CPCs on desktop through placement of PPC ads at the bottom of the page, and the more strategic issue of alignment of results pages across all device types. If successful, the Side ad is toast. Even Karch Kiraly will not be able to dig it out of the sand. Google is going to wean advertisers off of this ad format in order to make the desktop perform like mobile—not the other way around.