So Google decided to remove text ads from the sidebar of search results pages. This means the main column ads will occupy more positions on “highly commercial” search queries.  Let's examine the players involved and the impact this decision will have.


Google is in business to make money.  The majority of money that they make comes from advertisers.  But you won't see Google asking advertisers for opinions about layout design, functionality, "experience", or whether the proposed changes are good for them.  It's quite the contrary.  Google is known for rolling out sweeping changes that either take away advertiser control or change the advertising landscape which ultimately makes advertising with Google more competitive and expensive.

But… changes from Google don't just come about from a willy-nilly gut feeling.

Google is data-driven.  The decision was undoubtedly based on CTR data, statistical analysis and business decisions on how that space could be better utilized.


As an advertiser, the first questions that come to mind are:

  • Will my CPC rise?
  • Will my traffic volume decline?
  • Will my clicks decline?
  • How much more competitive am I going to have to be now?
  • How does this change my strategy?

Some advertisers are claiming that there will be more spots (potentially 4 top ads for searches with high commercial intent instead of 3 slots) which would help mitigate the loss of the sidebar.

I disagree with this comment because:

  • We don't know how frequent 4 ads will be displayed vs 3 ads
    1. Commercial intent is a very loose definition controlled by Google
  • One potentially extra ad slot couldn't possibly offset the impact of losing +8 sidebar slots

Let's be real here.  We have top ad slots and we have bottom ad slots.  I would argue that the bottom ad slots CTR will be horrific.  That really only leaves the top ad slots.  Now add to the fact that many advertisers know their top converting keywords.  For non-brand terms, competition will definitely increase as advertisers increase bids to get ad exposure and clicks.

As usual, advertisers are pitted against one another to fight it out for clicks.  What removing the sidebar means is that there are even fewer spaces left to fight for.  In other words, Google created scarcity knowing that they have demand, and they did it with one landscape design change.

Only time will tell if Google removing the sidebar ads will have a positive or negative impact for advertisers! We may see that removing the sidebar removes distraction and that our ads garner more clicks.

Search Engine Optimization

There’s also a third group, those who are not buying ads. How will the change affect them? Organic rankings on commercial queries will become more competitive because they are pushed further down the page. It seems to me that the “commercial query” definition is loose and variable depending on your personal behavior. Still, content creators and strategists should use this change to do a better job of categorizing the content on their site as informational (e.g. How-to or FAQ content) or commercial (e.g. Sign up or Buy-now content) and using the new competitive landscape to inform their content development and rank targeting efforts.

The rich search results like knowledge graph could possibly develop into a paid channel for Google. While a popular practice from smart SEO people is to create structured data on web pages that creates content more likely to satisfy informational searches and become an instant answer result, these queries are popular and Google is undoubtedly thinking of ways to monetize this.

How will this play out for Google's revenues?

…And Search Engine Marketers, too? The changes are hard to read just yet, but there are numerous implications that are possible. Depending on how fierce competition gets, Adwords might get too pricy which could cause advertisers to seek out alternative, lower-cost sources.

You also have to wonder what the long-tail Average Position players that like to hang their ads in the 5.0 -8.0 position are going to do.  Their only option is to increase bids if they want to play the game. The conclusion should be to pay better attention to keyword targeting in paid and organic efforts, and to look at new technologies and platforms, like structured data and social ads, as alternatives to the old paid and organic acquisition process.