Google Kills Off Side Ads: What You Need to Know


Text ads have appeared to the right of Google's search results since AdWords launched in 2000. No more. They're history. R.I.P.

Google has confirmed a huge change to the way AdWords ads are displayed for desktop search results, and it is now rolling out for all of its users globally. Google is killing off right-side text ads completely – although Product Listing Ads and ads in the Knowledge Panel will continue to be shown on the right – and adding a fourth ad for "highly commercial queries" above the organic search results.

no google adwords ads on right rail

As you can see this SERP has no side ads at all

“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries," Google told Search Engine Land. "We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.”

Any time Google announces such a massive change, panic tends to follow. People sometimes can overreact.

Let's look at what the death of right-side Google ads really means. Here are four key takeaways for marketers and advertisers.

1. Most Paid Clicks Are On Top Ads

Let's go straight to the data. And you can see it's not a huge deal:

top vs side ad clicks data

Using a Top vs. Other Report, we can discern that in January 2016, about 85% of clicks came from the top ads and only about 15% came from the side and bottom ads. This is based on data from approximately 2000 WordStream customer accounts across all industries representing tens of millions of clicks in the USA.

I'm confident the new fourth ad spot, plus new bottom spots, will make up for the loss of clicks on side ads.

Another reason to be hopeful: The new fourth ad looks more like an organic result than an ad. That's a huge plus for ads, since some users are more biased toward organic results.

The fourth top ad spot also gives you the ability to use ad extensions, which gives you more room to highlight more information about your business (contact information, product images, links), which can increase your click-through rates.

2. Ad Impressions Will Move, Not Vanish

Why is Google doing this? Yes, it makes their desktop results more in line with the mobile results. But you can bet that Google has also tested this new layout thoroughly and it improves performance for advertisements.

In fact, I'd expect more ad impressions on the SERPs overall – especially on keywords with commercial intent. SERPs with just one, two, or three ads will be harder to find – and those lost ad impressions from right ads will be soaked up by the new fourth ad spot at the top of the page, and up to three ads below the organic results.

Already, four-ad blocks account for just under 20% of the pages Moz is tracking:

adwords top ad blocks

3. More Extensions Plus Reporting Will Get Easier

As mentioned above, for PPC marketers, more opportunity to use ad extensions is a key advantage: Location, sitelink, and other ad extensions were previously only available for top of page ads. They never appeared for side ads. Now look at this:

rip adwords right side ads

If you were formerly in a side position and are getting bumped into #4 at the top or bottom of page ads, you'll get to display extensions.

Additionally, top vs. side ads complicated testing and reporting to a small degree because sometimes your ads include extensions, sometimes not, depending on ad position. This change solves that issue for advertisers.

4. Organic Search Is the Big Loser

Without a doubt, this change is bad news for anyone involved in SEO. Paid position #4 was the old organic position #1.

The top organic search result will no longer be visible above the fold on many desktop devices. But, again, this isn't shocking news because organic has been losing ground to new AdWords ad formats and other SERP changes every year.

Final Thoughts: Keep Calm

Many advertisers are concerned about huge CPC increases. However, those side ads were less than 15 percent of total desktop clicks (and this figure also includes bottom of page ads, so it's kind of double counting because those aren’t going away and desktop clicks account for less than half of total search). So my message to you is simple: Keep calm.

don't panic

I foresee no big changes in auction dynamics (CPCs, impression volume, etc.) because the changes are so perfectly balanced.

Really, Google is just kind of renaming stuff. Position 1-3 on right side is now position 4 on SERP. Positions 5-7 on right-side ads are now bottom of page ads 1-3. 

For now, the only clear loser is organic search.


Mark Irvine has published more early data/analysis (including changes, if any, to CPC and volume, here: The New Google SERP: 3 Changes & 3 Things That Haven't Changed…Yet



Andrew P. Cherry
Feb 22, 2016

How do you think this will affect the low cost ppc market and local business and the SME market in general how will they compete with big budgets and the corporates .. will they be priced out ?

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 22, 2016

We'll be providing more data this week as we dig into it but early results don't suggest a big change in CPC's.

Feb 23, 2016

The arbitrage people (ag Ask etc) are truly f***ed. They appear to have a business model around exploiting long-tail queries on PPC for low cost

Feb 23, 2016

The real question everyone's trying to answer is the impact on CTR, and consequently QS.

If CPC's have remained flat but CTR's have risen for 4 ad SERPs... that's something to think about since we usually tie high CTR's to high QS, and high QS to lower CPC's.

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 23, 2016

There will be new *expected* CTR's for each position, but a change in expected CTR shouldn't affect Quality Score. Your QS only goes up if your CTR improves relative to expected CTR

Feb 23, 2016

If on an average of 15% clicks are for side ads, certainly there are accounts for which this number is significantly higher than that. Also, for an account, the impact could vary quite a bit.

Here's the AdWords script to identify keywords that may be the most impacted by this change.


Larry Kim
Feb 23, 2016

sure. and there could be accounts where the number is significantly lower than 15%. that's just how averages work. but, on average, this doesn't seem to be that big a deal.

Feb 24, 2016

What would be the percentage of accounts that receive say, 25% or more clicks from the side ads?

Feb 23, 2016

Google still does a pretty good job showing me what I'm looking for but does it remember what happened to AltaVista and Yahoo where money got more important then the visitor?

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 23, 2016

I don't think that's why Yahoo failed as a search engine....Google delivered much better more relevant results.

Ash Waechter
Apr 03, 2016

That's what they want you to believe. I don't believe Google provided more relevant results. Getting relevant results is all a matter of perspective. Google did better for a variety reasons. I use Google simply because there are no distractions on their homepage, but I certainly don't think they give me better results. What is better, anyway? It's all a matter of what you're looking for,

john manes
Feb 23, 2016

To say this will have no big effects on cpc seems a little short sighted. Google has been trying for some time to force SEO dollars to be spent on SEM instead since they make nothing off of organic listings. The added sitelinks and moved the map back to the middle of the page which forced organic listings below the fold and now this move will move organic listings even further down. This will definitely increase competition for those top four spots both from current advertisers and from new ones who now see their organic listings being pushed off the first page.

Genie Parker
Feb 23, 2016

Currently our competitors purchase the ads for our company name and we do not. This means our organic return may be pushed too far down to see, right?

Does Google have any plans for this situation? It forces companies to pay for their own company to show when the company name is searched.

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 23, 2016

We actually recommend bidding on your own brand terms anyway. It's best to just own the serp both in the paid and top organic spots on your brand name. Those clicks tend to be super cheap anyway and are good for Quality Score.

Feb 24, 2016

Not that simple. Most commercial keywords are not "highly" commercial and wont have the fourth spot.

Ana Hoffman
Feb 25, 2016

I was under impression that the fourth ad only shows up in queries with 'high commercial intent', which most search queries aren't. So then nothing will change for organic listings for the most part.

Am I wrong? Thanks, Larry.

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 25, 2016

This is Google's claim, but some people are seeing the fourth ad on queries that aren't super commercial (like "bible study"). YMMV

Sukh Kaur
Feb 25, 2016

Organic search will always be the winner in my eyes. You can always pay more to get a higher search in paid, however, organic has a lot of work put in it and way more relevance to become higher in the Search. I think Google has something much bigger in stall! I wonder what its going to be.

Dave Rekuc
Feb 26, 2016

Any insight into why I still see some ads running with an average position of > 4? Even in a date range that is exclusively after the change, I see some ads running with over an avg. position of 4.

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 26, 2016

There are more than 4 ads on most SERPs, they have just been moved down below the results instead of in the right rail. Positions 5-11 are at the bottom.

Dissatisfied advertiser
Feb 29, 2016

It's interesting when Google will decide to remove the "side ad" preview they show you when you make a new ad or edit. It's still there and it's totally misleading.

Neil Roy
Mar 02, 2016

Hey guys, a fresh perspective could be to see this change affecting two types of businesses. Transnational type like eCommerce Vs Lead generation type businesses like BFSI. For eCommerce businesses, PLA would be a major get away for eCommerce where these businesses can now earn the X dollars they were ranking (4-7) in PLA for those product categories with PLA optimizations. On the other hand my concern is for Verticals like BFSI, we've seen already very high CPCs on these areas where difference in a keyword like "Buy Online Term Insurance" is priced at INR160 on position 6 Vs INR250 on position 2 ( that's a 56% hike in CTA ) & 14% of conversions used to come from such a keyword theme positioned between 5-8. For such situations I see a definite increase in CPCs or businesses exploring other channels like Display or GSP or even Facebook, but the conversion rates will take a huge kill. The more interesting proposition I have is, imagine a display ad format for all "lead generation" type campaigns, where the right hand side could be kept for auctioning based on keywords just like "PLA". Based on these thoughts I gathered some ppc experts at my agency & we did a brainstorming session to extract this 2k word article on all possible situations like CPCs, change in Strategies & even optimizations! Please tell us what you think about the same.

Bob Teal
Mar 26, 2016

Its really about exploiting consumers. We are a low price leader on the web and maybe you can explain how giving anyone a cut of sales helps consumers get the lowest price. This just assures that Google gets a cut of our sales and it turns out no way can you get even 1% of the free traffic we got 10 years ago now we could pay Google $200 a day and not get a tenth of the traffic we got for free before. This means we didnt hire the people we would have and we didnt grow as big as we could have and Google gets paid for doing nothing and they dont even work for us. Prices are higher on dresses and purses and anything you buy on the web so Google can get a cut like a mafia. Funny how everyone that is telling us how great PPC is are people who make a living doing that. If you want higher prices just keep promoting PPC as if you want a 14 cent box for 7 cents but now we have to charge 29 cents thank to Google well we are not paying them so our prices are still 7 cents for that 20 cent box. We may go out of business this year as Google has our 20000 pages up around page 39 but we have the lowest prices and I guess the new secret is the lowest prices can be found at page 30 and up not page 1 that is reserved for businesses that pay google the most for clicks sometimes as much as 20 dollars each. Cant have low pricing with that kind of overhead!

Adam S
Aug 28, 2016

You are right, Bob. The real story on Google is that once their dream change into wishing they were Facebook, for the tracking (no one seems to care that Facebook tracks them but they do care if Google does) and ads, they shifted their focus to greed. Facebook is the one who invented an algorithm that strangles businesses to death, Google just followed suit. Over the years, Google has built so much around its core protect it, but eventually it will all start falling. Just before their social network, Google +, was failing miserably, they knew they had to shift focus. The big companies already paid but the smaller businesses were the ones who weren't regularly doing PPC. A few years ago, someone pointed out a patent filed by Google showing their algorithm gave a huge boost to companies that are merely mentioned on the web, no link necessary, just a mere mention. An example is a company like Zillow, who now owns Trulia, shot to the top for every single market because their name is everywhere. Zillow will continue to do PPC but Google wants everyone else to pay. Google has been trying to hide the fact that they don't make money on search like they used to....they desperately want to be Facebook, so they change their algorithm to squeeze everyone into paying. They change their title relevance to only focus on the first 3 or 4 words of the title, that way people won't rank for as many search strings. It's also comical that Google acts as if their algorithm is so advanced. I have over 100 websites and I can always test and I can't tell you how many times that Google will pick a site that doesn't have nearly the amount of great content, or is slower, or isn't mobilized and it will rank it at the bottom, while the better, faster and mobilized site will be on page 5. One of their classic moves is when a page is ranking, the algorithm might one day just pick a different page to rank and suddenly you drop. Couple that with the fact that you cannot "compete" anymore with the giant companies without paying and you are in real trouble. The best part is PPC doesn't work anymore. Go ahead and spend thousands of dollars and see for yourself. It doesn't work. It may work for national brands but not the smaller business. You may get some return but the amount of money you have to spend will be much more. The good news is, in the next 5 years, Google's cracks will begin to be revealed. They make their money from those poor souls who still hope to build a business through PPC, luckily there are enough people on this planet that when one realizes it doesn't work another hopeful business starts up....Nowadays, Google makes the bulk of their money from Android. Once Oracle released the numbers on how much Google pockets from their operating system, every company with a network started to drool. It's why Google made it a ranking factor that sites must be mobilized......they want to milk it for as much as it's worth. But with Verizon's acquisition of Yahoo we have witnessed the beginning. Eventually everyone will start to have their own operating system and Google will no longer be able to hide the fact that they don't make the money, from PPC, that they used to. They won't be able to hide behind Android either. Just recently it was announced that Google was cutting their fiber expansion / work force in half. Why? It's expensive but they are just trying to fool the public as long as they can into thinking they are still the same mega-giant.....and, as of now, they still are. But the fiber expansion would reveal those cracks much sooner. Sadly, Google has turned the people off who made Google great and when all is revealed, it will be too late because everyone will have already moved on and Google will, once again, be only a search engine that people think of as a brand, like Coca-Cola. Not like that's a bad thing, they will still be a great business but they will no longer be the matrix....and that's a good thing.

rahul chaurasia
Sep 10, 2016

Hi, can someone tell me what is the mean of average position 5.5 in adwords or more. i mean because you guys said google will show only 4 ads on top which me 4 positions. so how 5.5 position will be handled?

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