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Google ditching right-hand PPC ads… but why?

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
8 November 2011

News this week from Google HQ reveals that Google are rolling-out a change to PPC ads in search results – namely, in some searches (presumably increasing over the coming months) users won’t see the traditional right-hand-seven PPC ads, instead seeing a smaller selection of ads at the bottom of the page.

Here’s the official line from Google:

ver the past few months, we’ve been updating the design and experience of Google Search and all of our other products to give users a more seamless and consistent online experience. As part of these look and feel changes, we are now introducing new ad placements on Google Search.

Starting today, ads that have previously shown to the side of the results may in some cases appear below them. We dynamically optimize each search page, including its ads, to provide the best experience for our users.

In many cases, we have found that displaying ads below search results fits better into the user’s flow as they scan the page from top to bottom. On average, this placement performed better than side ads in terms of click-through rate in our tests.

As you’d imagine, plenty of PPC agencies are busy speculating on what impact this will have on PPC click-throughs – something which we’re not quite as negatively affected by, working with Natural Search only. However, it has certainly made us wonder WHY Google have taken such a drastic move…

Google claim the change is as a result of user-experience testing, and is aimed to provide a better experience for the user – sounds nice, but when has Google turned down money in favour of user experience? We’re not buying that explanation – and have several theories on what the real reason might be…

  • Making space for other content – the right-hand-column of the page is becoming quite a common place for social content these days, and with Google’s “Preview Pane” also hiding quite a lot of the right-hand PPC ads, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google were making way for further content to go in this space instead.
  • Increasing user confusion – call us a conspiracy theorist if you like, but we’ve long noticed that the differentiation between PPC and SEO results has been getting more and more subtle – particularly on browsers like Chrome. Sticking the additional ads at the bottom rather than the side may well confuse users more, increasing click-throughs from people who might currently avoid PPC ads altogether…
  • Aligning with mobile – users of Google on mobile devices will be used to this layout anyway, so perhaps Google are trying to give users a consistent experience between mobile and desktop browsing?
  • Increasing competition – making the top 3 spots even more prominent obviously means those spots will be even more fiercely fought-over by PPC buyers in competitive markets. Definitely a reason that would appeal to the bean-counters at Google

Unless you take Google’s “user experience” official line, I guess we’ll never really know the real reason why this has been done – though I’m willing to bet more content will appear in the vacated screen-space within a month or less. Watch this – or that – space!

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