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How the Removal of Right Rail Ads Affects Paid Search Accounts

May 31, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016, was an uneasy day for paid marketing professionals. On that day, Google rolled out one of the largest changes in search marketing history: the removal of paid ads on the right-hand side of search results. With this change, search results now display up to four ads above organic results and three ads below organic results.

This roll-out by Google caused much uncertainty for paid marketing professionals, especially the effect it would have on the click-through-rate, cost-per-click, average position, impression share, and clicks in paid accounts.

As a paid marketing professional, I was eager to find answers. To get those answers, I surveyed my peers in the PPC department.

The study consisted of data collected from 23 AdWords accounts, divided into two groups. Group 1 consisted of B2B and B2C websites, and Group 2 consisted of specific industries, namely ecommerce, automotive, and medical. I compared account performance two weeks before Google removed ads from the right rail to the two weeks after the roll-out. Analysis included only non-brand search performance for click-through-rate, cost-per-click, average position, impression share, and clicks.

In all groups, CPC increased slightly. Ecommerce, B2C, and medical services experienced more than a 10% rise in CPC. The automotive industry saw between a 1% and 10% increase in CPC. However, the B2B industry was not affected by this change. The rise in CPC may have resulted from frantic bidding to preserve a top-of-page position with sidebar ads no longer available.

Results for clicks varied across verticals. Ecommerce and B2C verticals saw more than a 10% increase in clicks; medical services and the B2B vertical experienced between a 1% and 10% increase in clicks. Clicks within the automotive industry, however, decreased by more than 10%.

I suspect the rise in clicks is due to the increase in average position. With four ads now showing in the top slots above organic results, any ads that once showed in position four on the right side of the SERPs now have a premium spot. The automotive industry remains an outlier.

Results varied by verticals for average position. Ecommerce, B2C, and B2B verticals saw an increase in average position, between 1% and 10%. However, the average position within the automotive industry decreased between 1% and 10%. The average position for medical services was not affected by this change.

The logic for the increase in average position is simple. Bids were slightly modified to maintain or increase the positions of the ads in the SERPS.

Click-through rates increased between 1% and 15% across all verticals except the automotive industry. The automotive industry experienced a decrease in click-through-rate between 1% and 10%.

According to Mark Ballard and Andy Taylor from Merkle-RKG, one contributing factor to the increase in CTR is the addition of “ad extensions like site links and seller ratings now showing for bottom of the page ads, which could likely increase click-through-rates.” (Again, the automotive industry is the outlier.)

Across all industries, impression share declined by more than 10%. The decline in impression share is certainty attributed to the drop in impressions after Google implemented the change. The ads in positions five and below that once captured the real estate on the right-hand side of Google dropped to the bottom of page one or two, lowering impression share.

In summary, it's evident that the removal of right rails ads in Google had a much larger impact on paid metrics for some verticals more than others. As advertisers continue to adapt to this change, results will look a whole lot different in months to come. I suspect the landscape for top spots to become more competitive, yet advertisers will need to become more creative to stand out in the SERPS.

That’s the story of five metrics across five industry groups. But I know there’s more, and I am sure we will hear a whole lot about them after more data is collected. Have you seen an impact in your accounts? We would love to hear how this change has affected you.

Portrait of Leandra Parks

Leandra Parks