Google is changing up the paid search layout on SERPs pages. Here's exactly what's changing and how it will affect paid search campaigns and organic SEO performance.

Last week, Google completely removed paid search ads from the right hand side of all SERPs across desktop searches worldwide. Correspondingly, they increased the number of top ad placements from three to four for ‘highly commercial queries’ thereby pushing organic listings further down the page.

What Exactly Is Changing?

According to Search Engine Land, here’s what’s changing:

  • No text ads will be served on the right rail of the search results on desktop.
  • Google will serve four text ads instead of three in the mainline area above the organic listings for more “highly commercial queries.”
  • Three text ads will show at the bottom of the SERPs.
  • The total number of text ads that can appear on a SERP will shrink from as many as 11 to a maximum of seven.
  • Product listing ad blocks and Knowledge Panels (sometimes with ads, as tests continue in these spaces) will show in the right rail on relevant queries.

At this point, only desktop results have changed. However, these changes are permanent and global across all Google search engines and partner properties.

How Will This Affect PPC?

Since the click through rates (CTR’s) on right hand column ads were already low, the loss in click traffic due to this change will most likely be rather low. As we see it, here are the pro’s and con’s for paid search that come with this change:

  • Pro: Additional ads above organic listings will allow for more advertisers to become competitive.
  • Pro: The loss of the RHC (right hand column) text ads allows room for additional PLA placements, which should increase the impression share that this ad format receives.
  • Pro: All ads will be eligible for extensions—allowing for more robust, detailed ad copy that should result in increased quality scores.
  • Con: The subtraction of the side bar ads will ultimately increase the competition within the top 4 positions. As advertisers are given less opportunity for impression share, the available landscape becomes smaller and costs for those placements will most likely increase.

It’s important to keep in mind that this change only applies to desktop users. As mobile search continues to grow and become an integral part of the purchase funnel, the number of searches ultimately affected by this change will become smaller.

How Will This Affect SEO?

On first glance, this looks like it’s bad for SEO as the number one ranking in organic results will appear lower and be clicked on less frequently. But, that is a myopic view of search engine results. The truth is that the SERPs experience varies by query, location and your personalize search history on both desktop and mobile. The day of a static SERPs page is gone – as this Mega SERP clearly displays.

This latest change by Google, then, is another reminder of what will continue to drive SEO performance. To succeed in organic, it’ll be even more important to understand the overall search opportunity and develop persona-centric strategies that help users at every touch point in their buying journey. And it will be increasingly important to align it all with a cohesive brand voice.

So What’s The Bottom Line?

At the moment, there is a lot of speculation without good analytical data to back it up. Google may be trying to standardize the advertising ecosystem across mobile, tablet and desktop devices. Or they may simply be making more room for Knowledge Panels to become even more prominent.

Only Google knows for sure. The best process forward is to continue observing and implementing best practices across paid search and search engine optimization, such as monitoring and adjusting campaigns, and executing persona-centric search strategies.