On Friday, February 19, Google announced that it rolled out a significant change to the way its search engine listings are displayed. This change removes ads from the right-hand side of its desktop search results and places ads only at the top and/or bottom of the page.

Google ads will not appear on the right side of desktop search results, with two exceptions.

At the same time, the company said it may show an additional ad — four, not three — above the search results for what it calls “highly commercial queries.” Businesses are now trying to determine how this will impact their search marketing efforts.

Notice in the search for “used cars” below that the size of the paid real estate has increased.

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Why is Google making this change?

The change represents the conclusion of a test that began back in 2010, and has been gradually refined over the years. For the past couple of months, Google has been testing SERPs with four ads at the top of the page (previously, the top ad block had 1-3 ads), leading to a ton of speculation in the PPC community.

A Google spokesperson has confirmed to Search Engine Land that the change is now rolling out to searches in all languages worldwide. Ads will not appear on the right side of desktop search results, with two exceptions:

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  • Ads in the Knowledge Panel.

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The additional fourth ad that may show above the search results will only show up for highly commercial queries, according to Google’s official statement on the change:

“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. 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.”

How should your business adjust?

There are two main concerns right now as it relates to Google’s changes and how it might impact business.

There are two main concerns right now as it relates to these changes and how it might impact business.

  1. The possibility that CPCs will increase because of higher demand and lower supply.
  2. The possibility that organic clicks will reduce because results are being pushed further down the page.

Both of these concerns are mostly speculative since not enough data has been collected yet to determine the true impact.  As we are adjusting to this new reality, here are a few things to keep an eye on for both your paid and organic search results.

  • Average Position: Especially as it relates to your Google AdWords campaigns, monitoring your average position will become increasingly important. Be aware that if you are bidding to anything below four (and even three if your targeted search terms aren’t showing four ads) you will likely receive very little visibly or click volume.
  • Cost-Per-Click: If the search terms you are bidding on are highly competitive, you may see your average CPC increase because of competition. Before you follow the trend, make sure that your ROI will stay intact by paying a little bit more for a click.
  • Click-Through-Rates: If your average position for your existing terms is between 4-10, expect to see your CTR’s decrease.
  • Conversion Volume/Campaign Objectives: Whatever your primary campaign objective is, whether it be conversions, leads, or impressions, keep a close eye on it. Again, if your average position and CTRs remain high, you probably won’t see much of an impact.

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