Nothing like good news on a Friday! Before leaving work on Friday, February 19th, I saw a Search Engine Land article describing how Google will stop showing ads on the right-hand column of their search engine results pages. Before freaking out and digging in for a late night and long weekend combating this latest change, I did a few searches. With relief, I realized these changes haven’t swept across the Google landscape. Not yet. So this gap affords us time to plan and strategize.

The main question on everyone’s mind: What does this mean?


CPCs for the remaining ad position will likely increase.

The system AdWords uses to place ads in its results pages is an auction. If there are fewer spots available to show ads, it increases scarcity. It stands to reason that the price for the remaining ad positions will increase.

SMBs with small budgets could get priced out of AdWords

 If prices go up, and the lower position ranks become extinct, this doesn’t leave much middle ground. This won't affect every industry, but if the companies you compete with have deep pockets, it could get messy.

Mobile ads have been in a similar boat for over a year

If it’s been working fine in the burgeoning world of mobile, then maybe the sky isn’t falling. If you’re already getting 50%+ of your current traffic from mobile, this change will affect less than half of your results. If you’re a desktop-only advertiser, however, it might be time to increase your efforts to get your mobile site in order. (It’s a good idea anyway, beyond AdWords pay per click concerns.)

Trimming the fat becomes essential

 We’ll no longer have the luxury of owning hordes of middling keywords to evaluate over time. It’s either to the top of the list or off to the trash heap.

If you’re an e-commerce advertiser and you’re not using shopping campaigns, you’re doing it wrong

Realistically, this statement was true even while Google supported right-hand column ads, but it’s even more crucial now. Why? Because the shopping 8-pack of ads will still display on the right-hand column of search engine results.

right side 8 pack of shopping ads  

New targeting methods like RLSA and Customer Match could become more valuable

Through these new-ish targeting methods, we can more precisely hit a specific audience. And this usually broadens the types of keywords we might want to target. If we’re targeting an existing valuable audience, we’re probably willing to pay a higher price for a top ad placement.

The value of testing and quickly coming to conclusions goes up. As does the value of agencies like ours that know how to do this

Testing is a cornerstone of PPC success. “When in doubt, test it” is the mantra of all the top PPC managers. But knowing we have to test and knowing how to successfully test are two different things. Agencies and companies who can test efficiently, rigorously and quickly will have a big advantage. Actually, that was always true.

In the future, all ad positions will be eligible to display ad extensions

Hopefully every AdWords advertiser is using all applicable ad extensions that make sense to their business. Ad extensions have impacted Quality Scores since 2013, so there's no time like the present to get these going. Since we’re trimming down what we’re going after, any campaign worth putting together is worth creating ad extensions for, period.

Quality Score is more important than ever

It was important before, but now it’s really, really important. If there are 4 visible spots in the ad results, and competition and CPCs are likely to go up, we need to understand the levers at our disposal. One of the biggest levers that doesn’t cost more is Quality Score.

Diversifying your ad spend across many channels may become essential

It’s always good to diversify – relying on one lead or sale source will usually create issues for any business. Bing Ads, Facebook and LinkedIn all may end up being efficient ways to get your message in front of the right people.

Bold prediction: new targeting methods

What I’d really like to see is some new targeting layers in AdWords. Since we may be pickier about which keywords we select, we ought to be more willing to bid aggressively if we can target these bids to a certain audience segment. Imagine what you could do if you applied Facebook-level audience targeting as a layer on your search campaigns. The downside is it would make competitive research nearly impossible, since each search would potentially have a customized search experience.

Despite this being one of the biggest updates we’ve seen in a while, I’m not ready to freak out about it. We in the paid search industry have been through this before. Google loves to keep us on our toes. We’ve been through Final URLs and we've endured the switch from Free Google Shopping to the paid version, which we now (sometimes) love. 

We’ve seen Enhanced Campaigns, the launch of Quality Score and the launch of every single ad extension. At the end of the day, Google is simply giving advertisers tools so Google can make more money serving ads. It’s up to us to figure out how to make this system profitable for our clients.