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Marketing Experts Weigh in on Removal of Google Sidebar Ads

Posted March 1, 2016by Mary McCoy

Are you currently running any pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns for your managed IT services website? If you are, you may have heard that last week Google announced it had gotten rid of the ad spaces that used to appear in the right-hand sidebar of the search engine results page (SERP). Instead, a fourth slot has been added to the ad space at the top of the SERP, effectively pushing organic search results (the ones you don't have to pay for) further from view. What does this mean for the future of paid and organic search? Here's insight from search engine marketing experts! 

 

Meet the Search Engine Marketing Experts: 

Peter Hughes, Constant Contact, Inc.

Peter Hughes oversees the global search and digital marketing initiatives at Constant Contact, Inc., the industry leading provider of SaaS-based marketing tools to small businesses and non-profits.

Matt Hagg, Continuum Managed Services 

Matt Hagg has owned and managed Continuum's Google AdWords account for the past year and a half. He's responsible for tracking and reporting on the ROI of our efforts as well as the regular tasks that go along with it including daily bid management, keyword research, ad optimization and the creation of new segments and campaigns to improve our lead generation efforts.

3 Questions for Every MSP Trying to Increase Online Visibility 

1. Is this bad news for people currently running PPC campaigns? Should they hold off for now?

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Not necessarily. In fact, by adding a fourth ad above the organic listings, Google has created further opportunity to get richer ads in premium positions. I accept that it does create less visibility for any advertiser whose average position has historically been 5+ as these ads will now be buried under the organic listings. As such, to most searchers, the only ads they see will be positions 1-4. A consequence might be an initial surge from advertisers for premium positions, which may result in cost per click (CPC) inflation, at least in the short-term, thereby making auctions more expensive with this CPC inflation compressing ROI margins. That said, don’t pull out of your programs on the sheer prospect of this – test and measure the impact over time and make decisions with data-backed insights rather than through panic. Studies show over 80 percent of clicks on paid search ads came from ads in the top three positions anyway, suggesting that the ads on the side have rarely been considerable drivers of paid search traffic. 

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No, in fact this is a great opportunity for folks investing in paid search. If you’re currently running PPC campaigns, and you rely on 4-7 ranking positions to keep costs low, you definitely want to rethink your strategy and take advantage of the opportunity. According to data from WordStream, the majority of clicks come from the top three as opposed to the 14.6 percent that were due to the side and bottom ads. If anything Google is giving more of an opportunity because they are offering a fourth spot on the high CTR top ads section. Cost wise, many authorities who have been tracking this change have not recorded any significant increases in terms of cost per click (CPC), yet.
 
If you’ve been holding off on paid search, don’t wait any longer. You still have to invest time in your SEO efforts, but what’s the use if all your competitors are getting in front of you by leveraging paid ads? Double down and make sure you show up for both paid and organic to increase your presence and get in front of your audience.

 

While increased competition over keywords may drive up the CPC, you shouldn't throw in the towel just yet. Larry Kim, Founder of Wordstream, has stated that he sees "no impact on AdWords auction dynamics (clicks, impressions, CPCs, etc.)." In fact, Kim claims it's a "net positive for paid desktop search." Continue reading his analysis here!

 

2. What does this mean for organic search and SEO efforts?

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Effectively, organic listings have now been pushed down one place by virtue of Google adding position 4 above those listings, therefore reducing organic visibility. Moreover, as PPC ads get richer and richer through features like location extensions, sitelinks and call extensions, these ads are becoming ever more enticing to click on compared to the relatively staid organic results. I’m not prepared to call time on SEO efforts, because developing quality and meaningful content is the right thing to do to meet the needs of your customers but organic search is arguably the big loser in this.

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If there’s a loser, it’s definitely organic. Google constantly puts up hurdles for us when it comes to organic, and they’ve done it again in an indirect way.
 
The fourth paid ad is taking over where the first organic result resided, pushing it below the fold. But don’t stop your SEO efforts, do more. Your impressions aren’t going away and searchers are still going to scroll to see organic results. Don’t put yourself any lower. You can’t change what Google has decided to do, but you can change the way you adapt. Place a greater emphasis on growing your organic traffic by optimizing elements that increase your organic CTR, like title tags and meta descriptions. 

 


This is a top concern among search engine marketers and a point addressed in a recent Search Engine Watch article. Weighing in on the impact to organic traffic, Julia Logan, SEO consultant at IrishWonder.com, advises those focused on SEO to continue competing against paid ads. Meanwhile Kevin Gibbons, Managing Director at BlueGlass, urges marketers to raise the bar. He says they "really should be aiming [for the] top three now, otherwise there’s likely to [be] a big drop-off in clickthrough rates."

 

 

3. What are action items and main takeaways from news?

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Don’t panic but do pay extra attention to monitoring your PPC and organic search KPIs over the coming weeks. Don’t radically alter course to try to get ahead of this change – if you have a set of keywords and strategies that worked for you in paid search, keep executing on them but pay close attention to how, if at all, auction dynamics are shifting – are you seeing average position drop? CPC increases? Monitor and, if applicable, take action. Watch your organic traffic to pages that have historically driven healthy organic search volume – does it change radically? Above all, using data to form your assessments will be crucial.

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This is a great opportunity for paid search. The cost to start up in your market for the your target audience hasn’t changed, so If you haven’t started to invest, start now. Organic is tough for companies and regardless of your execution, results aren’t instantaneous like they can be with paid search. But, with paid search you can get yourself in front of your target fairly quickly.



 

What else does the removal of sidebar ads mean for search engine marketing? The future is mobile. For a while now, Google has been priorizing the mobile experience, increasingly finding new ways to optimize it for searchers. As captured in a Moz blog post, the mobile SERP never had a right sidebar for ads, which means "Google may be trying to standardize the advertising ecosystem across devices." Google's emphasis on mobile should be yet another cue for you to make your website mobile friendly, if it's not already, to increase its online visibility in search results. 

Click here to see if your site passes the mobile friendly test!

Looking to learn more about search engine marketing and search engine optimization? 

The-Complete-Guide-to-MSP-Marketing-eBook

 


Further Reading:

Meet Mary! Mary McCoy is a Senior Demand Generation Programs Manager at Continuum, where she's worked for over two years. Mary has consulted with hundreds of partners, lending website, blog and social media support. Before that, she graduated from the University of Virginia (Wahoowa!) with a BA in Economics and served as digital marketing intern for Citi Performing Arts Center (Citi Center), spearheading the nonprofit’s #GivingTuesday social media campaign. Like her school’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, Mary believes learning never ends. She considers herself a passionate, lifelong student of content creation and inbound marketing.

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