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What’s next? Google’s removal of RHS Ads in search results pages

With the global roll out of the removal of right-hand side (RHS) ads in search engine results page in Google last Friday, together with the appearance of fourth ads on the left hand side (LHS) above the search results page, pose great challenges to advertisers who have been relying on their presence on Google to drive traffic and conversions.

Marketers need to re-evaluate not only their current SEM strategies but also how they approach SEO as well.

Google’s Motivations

Google claims that their intent to remove all RHS ads is to make their appearance to be consistent across their desktop and mobile search results page.

However, I believe that the underlying motive has more to do with the goal of revenue extraction from their Google AdWords ads, which contribute more than half of the total Google’s annual revenue.

Previous eye-tracking study has shown that people focus most of their attention to the top left, and to a lesser extent, the top right of the search results page. With the removal of RHS ads, it makes it significantly harder for advertisers to have an appearance above the fold before scrolling down on any search results page.

Changing Strategies on SEM

Before the roll-out, Google would show up to three ads on the top left hand side (LHS) of the search results page and eight ads on the right hand side (RHS). There was a total of 11 possible adspaces within first page of the search results.

The global rollout will increase the ads on the left to up to four (for generic keywords) on the LHS before the first organic results and another three after the tenth organic research results at the bottom of the page.

Essentially, the number of ad space availability drops from 11 to seven for the highly competitive keywords.

Having a fourth position in the search results page on the left further pushes down the first organic result link, making it just at the fold before users have to scroll down.

I would suspect that the number of clicks recorded for the fourth ad position will see a significant increase after the roll out because of its favorable position compared to before.

Previously, some advertisers, may deliberately rank lower just to have an exposure on the search results page, by focusing on position four and five. With the removal, the “free” impressions” that they enjoy will reduce significantly.

With the change, we would expect to see the performance changes as below:

– Overall increase in CPC as advertisers are now pushing to be in the top three-four positions above the fold.

– Overall impression delivered will decrease as your ads need to be in the top six to seven rather than to 10 to 11 to be shown on the first page of search results.

– Overall CTR will also see an improvement as Google reduces the number of ads from a maximum of 11 to just seven. With the reduction of impressions and the increase in the number of clicks, it is naturally to see an increase in the CTR.

Solutions

Advertiser should monitor closely the changes in their CPC, particularly for generic keywords, after the change. They should also experience a drop in impressions.

Given that the roll out has only been for a week, it’s hard to quantify the expected increase in the CPC of the ads.

Impact on SEO

Having a fourth ad in the search engine results page above the organic listing on the left hand side (LHS) will further push the organic results down, potentially leading to a decline in organic traffic. However, before jumping too quick into a conclusion that SEO will become less important, it is note that Google makes it clear that the Google knowledge box, together with Google Production Listing Ads, will be the two exceptions to be shown on the RHS.

SEO has been evolving and moving towards the direction of optimizing a brand’s digital presence, rather than simply its website.

Google also provides more control to markets by allowing them to edit the content of the knowledge box.

In the past two years, Google have sped up in the ad beta rollouts and continued to test different ad extensions in AdWords to make the search ads richer than before.

With the new roll out, having a presence on Google ads becomes more crucial even for branded keywords, with the position of organic website link being pushed further down the line.

Antony Yiu is head of digital for MEC North Asia and head of search and performance for MEC APAC.

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