Life Before Sidebar Ad Removal
To understand the opportunity, let’s take a look at what PPC advertising looked like when the right-hand side of the SERPs page was still full of ads. In those days, you theoretically had 10 positions to choose from. Positions 1-3 appeared at the top of the page, and positions 4-10 appeared on the right hand side.
Positions 1-3 were always the best positions to pursue, especially once Google began making ad results look more and more like organic search results. Back when those ads were enclosed by a big yellow "warning box" they were easy to ignore. Today, you’ll find a tiny, barely noticeable "Ad" tag next to those results. Obviously, as a result, these positions get plenty of visibility as many busy people fail to notice they’re looking at an advertisement at all, resulting in better click-through rates and more revenue for those who happened to make it into the top spots.
However, positions 1-3 did require some of the biggest bids, so there was another school of thought in the PPC world, one that said you could bid less and get great results on the top 3 sidebar ads (formerly positions 4, 5, and 6) by developing super-creative, super-relevant ads. As a result, these positions are getting plenty of visibility as many users don’t notice they’re even being given ads.
Life After Sidebar Ad Removal
Positions 1-4 now appear at the very top of the SERPs page, and they will continue to resemble organic results as much as possible. Herein lies the opportunity, as there will now be an additional "top spot" for advertisers to pursue. This is where advertisers need to place their focus.
However, ads in positions 5-10 might as well not exist at all, as they will be displayed at the very bottom of the page, a location where they are unlikely to ever be seen.
This does mean bidding will become far more competitive. However, it would be a mistake to think that advertisers should abandon relevancy or even creativity. Those two qualities will still impact your CTRs, which will continue to have a bearing on your ad position. Don’t expect that to change—Google thrives on customer trust, and if customers don’t trust they’ll receive highly relevant results on the SERPs then Google will lose its dominance. Ad results have to be just as relevant as organic results if Google is to maintain that trust, if not more so.
Ad relevancy also has an impact on your ROI. Why wouldn’t you make the most of your ad dollar by building the best ads you possibly can, no matter which position you ultimately attempt to bid your way into?
Why Did Google make This Change?
There are several reasons.
Sidebar ads served to draw more attention to the fact that there were ads on the page at all. Google is trying to get more clicks from ad-adverse individuals since they don’t make money when a user clicks on organic results.
Also, the SERPs page now looks cleaner and less cluttered, again resulting in greater user satisfaction.
Finally, there’s the somewhat cynical but not necessarily inaccurate reasoning that Google has made this move to force bid increases, since relevant, creative ads will no longer save you if you aren’t willing to pay competitive rates for your keywords.
How should your company respond?
If you’ve been sitting in positions 5 or 6 then you’ll definitely want to allocate more funds to your PPC campaigns so you may start increasing your bids right away. Do this no matter how good you think your ad copy is.
If you’re in position 4, then you’re about to see a big increase in your CTR. However, don’t get too comfortable: consult with your ad manager about how you can keep your new pole position. You will probably have to increase your budget as well, as will everyone in positions 1, 2, and 3. Competitors will have no choice but to increase their own bids in an attempt to try to force you out of your top spots. In the short term you might enjoy an increase in traffic without changing your bids as your competitors scramble to catch up. Just don’t expect the free ride to last.