About a week ago there were mutterings on the web that Google was going to remove the right hand side of ads from it's results pages. This of course was looked upon as hearsay - as such a brash move from Google which could potentially disrupt the status quo of the current auction format - it seemed somewhat unlikely.

This week however, Google has confirmed that the move is happening, however the details are somewhat fuzzy. There has been no official post from Google outlining any changes, and communications from Google reps are slightly shaded, but they're all pointing towards painting the same picture.

What's changing?

  • Instead of Google displaying up to 11 ad spots both across the top of the SERPs and down the right hand side, the maximum number of spots eligible to show will be 7
  • 4 ads will show at the top of the page, and 3 at the bottom
  • The only paid content to show in the right hand column will be PLAs/Shopping ads

You can see from the example below, the 4 ad format will dominate most of the above-the-fold real estate:

Will this affect all searches?

Whilst Google has not confirmed anything yet, we're being told that this change is being rolled out for searches with "high commercial intent", which roughly translates as a search with intent to buy (which Google can monetise heavily). Despite this, you'll likely struggle to find an example of a search showing the right hand column of ads.

How will this affect you?

This change will have the biggest effect on people using position based bidding strategies, as the ad position mix will have been disrupted. It's likely that someone previously in position 5 on the right hand side will see CTRs drop considerably when moved to the bottom of the page, in which case ad position might have to be re-assessed.

It's also likely that CPCs will gradually inflate as advertisers are competing for the top 4 ad spots. However this might not come as a sudden change, as Google has been trialing this ad format for a number of years - trialing first on mortgage related queries as early as 2010. As a result, bidding strategies may have already gradually changed for instances where this SERPs format has already been prevalent.

The other impact we're also likely to see is a slight drop in traffic from organic results, as many listings are pushed down 1 more ad spot in favour of a block of 4 ads at the top.

We should see an official update from Google in the next few days. However, it might take a few weeks untilwe can start to make solid conclusions based on data pre and post this new format roll out as to how CPCs and CTRs have been affected.