The Constantly Changing Search Engine Marketing Game: AdWords Right Column Eliminated

The DVR is one of my favorite inventions because it takes the ads out of my way on the occasions that I watch network television or have recorded a Carolina Hurricanes game. I get back 20 minutes of my life during an hour-long network tv program, and that feels like a win.

You might say that Google’s changes to their search engine results page (SERP) on desktops have also gotten ads out of your way.  Here’s what a search result for “HVAC maintenance Raleigh” looks like today.

Search result page

The blank space on the right side of the page used to be populated with a long column of text ads powered by Google AdWords.  Now the right rail is blank and the main column on the left has changed, too. More about that in a second.

Depending on your search, you may still see some results in the right rail. Searches for specific items will return product listings. My sample searches for hiking shoes (that I need) and my car (that I love) show the only ways that Google is using the right rail today — for searches that show buying intent. Time will tell how this real estate will be used in the future – it’s hard to imagine that it will remain empty for long.

How the SERP has changed

Besides the disappearance of the ad column in the right rail, the main column has changed a bit.

On that search for “HVAC maintenance Raleigh”:

  • There are now four Google AdWords text ads at the top of the SERP results in most cases (sometimes it’s still three ads at the top, but most of my test searches display four ads).
  • There are now four Google AdWords text ads at the bottom of the search results page.

Organic search results are two screen scrolls down the page on my 17” MacBook, below the map. Organic results are one of four elements on the page – harder to pick out from the flashier paid placements or the pins on the map.

Panic Level:  Yellow

It may not be a huge loss. A leading online advertising company, WordStream says that the sidebar ads did not collect many clicks, that the highest percentage of ad clicks were made at the top of the main column.

But it has become more difficult to be visible on the page with a large number of ads now eliminated. The ideal situation is as it always has been: Play by the current SEO rules to rank as high as possible in organic results, and spend wisely for select pay-per-click placements.

Advice for Service Contracting Companies

Prepare for higher PPC costs.

There are mixed opinions about the inevitability of higher cost-per-click rates. Simple supply and demand indicates more competition for the coveted four spots at the top of the page. If you are running PPC campaigns through Google AdWords, it’s important to closely monitor your spend and your results, and adjust your placement strategy accordingly.

Change your tactics for visibility.

Even if the ads in the right rail garnered fewer clicks, they did provide visibility on the first page to more brands. The number of ad spots on the page has decreased, yet those advertisers still desire the visibility on the page. Which means that everyone will now….

Work harder/smarter to be visible on the first page.

There’s a legitimacy to organic results that doesn’t apply to paid placements. So work harder to follow best practices for search engine optimization (SEO) and consider programs like Service Review from ServiceTrade that populates your site with keyword-rich content and boosts your search engine ranking through reviews from happy customers.

It’s an unexpected decision for Google to reduce AdWords in a way that would seem to reduce its revenue potential. As we’ve talked about several times on this blog (see the related stories below), Google has an aggressive strategy for playing a bigger part in service delivery. Have no doubt that Google’s plans, whatever they are, will make up for whatever it loses from AdWords and will become the next thing for service businesses to react to.

Also read:
Why Google’s Relationship with Home Advisor Matters to Service Contracting Businesses
Google Home Services and its Impact on Small and Medium Businesses
Google Wants Your Service Business, Too

4 replies
  1. Paul
    Paul says:

    Thank you pointing this out. We are currently paying for ad words and the two main searches for our industry has us at the very top of the ad words options, which is great, but I do not see our site anywhere under what you call organic results for at least two pages. Is this because we are in the ad words spot? Or do we have an issue with SEO?

    • Shelley Bainter
      Shelley Bainter says:

      Glad to hear you have the top AdWords placements, that’s great! Keep an eye on them in the coming weeks to make sure that your bids will keep you at the top. I have never seen anything that says that organic results are impacted by PPC. It is probably worth doing an SEO checkup to see what you can do on your site to appear on page 1. — Shelley

  2. bobmisita
    bobmisita says:

    Shelley, the ST team and service contractors,

    Great post; very informative.

    As someone who’s been buying Adwords on behalf of clients for 15 years, I thought I’d add my 2 cents on interpreting Google’s motivation for doing this. Make no mistake, Google KNOWS this will substantially increase revenue. As you noted from Wordstream, the right rail accounted for very few (relatively) clicks but gave Adwords buyers much more flexibility in terms of bid rate. To use a Macro Economics example, by significantly decreasing the supply curve in the face of an unmovable demand curve, Google has maximized its revenue. Adwords buyers will be forced into much more drastic bidding wars due to scarcity and advertisers with minimal budgets may be excluded entirely in effect.

    This is an unfortunate day for the little guy on two fronts, 1 – the effective space for organic listings above-the-fold has been decreased and 2 – their capability to compete on PPC is also decreased. It has now become even more important for small and large brands alike to rely on vendors who can provide truly best of breed solutions – like ServiceTrade.

    Thank you,


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