As a forward-thinking media agency we are constantly monitoring the search engines for updates and competitive advantages we can use for our clients. It was recently revealed that Google are completely ditching right-hand-side ads from their search results. A quick check this morning and yes, they’ve vanished.

Why has Google made this change?

The following is the first of Google’s 10 core beliefs:

Focus on the user and all else will follow.

Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting. When we build new tools and applications, we believe that they should work so well you don’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently.

Over the course of the 13 years I have worked with Google Adwords, they have stuck religiously to this idea of providing the most relevant search results on the web. Their belief is that if they don’t, another more relevant search engine will take it’s place. It’s the reason why Adwords isn’t a straight auction where the highest bid wins. If you’re more relevant than a competitor for a particular search, you can appear higher than them for a lower cost per click. Their relevance calculation is of course top secret but it involves a mixture of click through rate, historical account performance, ad text relevance (inc ad extensions) and landing page relevance. Google also have shareholders to look after. They rarely make changes that don’t make them more money in the long run. This move has been carefully planned within Google HQ, where it is believed that the reduction in side ads revenue will be more than compensated by the increase in click costs as a result of everyone now vying for the top 4 positions. Businesses who can afford to be in these top 4 spots will, despite increased click costs, start to hoover up most of the traffic volume on desktop. Businesses who can’t will ultimately have to look elsewhere for volume of traffic, leads and sales.

What does this mean for your PPC campaigns, and what do you need to do about it?

1) Be prepared to bid more per click

Click costs will undoubtedly go up as a result of this change. I was a big fan of the right-hand-side ads as they could deliver excellent conversion rates at lower cost than the top 3 positions. Now, ads in position 5 downwards appear at the bottom of the page, below the organic results. The drop in traffic will be huge, and everyone is now competing for those precious 4 top spots. It’s akin to mobile searches, which have 2 ad spots at the top, and anything below that hardly gets any volume.

2) Implement bid strategies based on ad position

The problem with appearing in position 5 or below is that now your ad is out of sight. Where previously it was above the fold generating a decent click through rate (CTR), now it is hidden away well below the fold but crucially still generating impressions. Impressions without clicks harms your CTR, and CTR is the main factor Google uses to determine Quality Score. A low Quality Score equals a higher cost-per-click (CPC) – this creates a vicious circle which means you will have to bid more and more to get into those top 4 positions. By utilising Google’s bid strategies you can try to ensure that you stick to the top-of-page ad slots.

3) Work hard to improve your Quality Score

Remember that you can counter increased CPCs to some extent by maximising your Quality Score. It has been demonstrated that an increase in Quality Score by 1 point (Quality Score is calculated as a figure between 1 and 10) can lead to a CPA reduction of 16%. It is undoubtedly the case that a higher Quality Score means a lower cost per click, for a higher position. Google’s mantra has always been ‘relevance to the user’s search’, so you need to bear this in mind. Ways to increase your Quality Score:

– reduce the number of keywords in each of your ad groups so you are serving more relevant ads.
– work on your landing pages to ensure that they are as relevant as possible to the search terms.
– utilise ad extensions to increase the size of your ad on the screen (and thus boost it’s CTR).
– make sure that your ad text & display URL contain the relevant keywords.

4) Cut wastage

It has never been more important to cut wastage from your account, and it’s something we do religiously for all of our PPC clients. Negative keyword research should be a daily task based on your search term reports, and also your own common sense. Look at time and day reports to figure out if certain times are producing a higher cost per conversion. Look at geography – is Scotland proving to be more expensive than Wales? Don’t just look at conversions or leads – you need the actual sales data as this is ultimately what matters. The more wastage you can cut from your account, the more you can afford to put into the keywords that are producing a positive ROI.

5) Consider whether your SEO efforts are really worth it

Organic results used to take up 70% of the space above the fold for any search query. Before this weekend it was around 30%, now it’s even less. You can barely see one organic listing above the fold now that there are 4 paid ads at the top of every search results page. On mobile you can’t see any organic listings without scrolling down. In my opinion you would be better off spending your SEO budget on PPC instead.

6) Optimise your landing pages for conversion

If you can double your conversion rate, you halve your PPC costs. Most sites are not fully optimised for conversion, especially when it comes to mobile. Mobile-friendly does not mean the same thing as mobile-optimised. Ways you can increase the conversion rate of your landing page include adding social proof (reviews, testimonials), using images to draw the eye to the conversion goal (form fill or checkout page), & removing unnecessary clutter & distractions such as navigation menus.

7) Look at other online traffic sources

Paid search has always been King when it comes to conversions – you’re grabbing people at the end of the funnel & sealing the deal. The people who click on a paid search ad have displayed an active interest in your product or service. But what about other channels? What Facebook lacks in user intent, it makes up for with targeting options and behaviours. If you can get your site working on mobile there are huge wins to be had with mobile ad networks and in-app advertising. Shopping ads still on the right-hand-side of Google search results, so if you have a website selling individual products online you should exploit this.

8) Invest in video

There’s a lot of blank space on the Google search results now, and this may pave the way for video ads down the right hand side. Last year Google restructured their TrueView video ads to bring them in line with search ad groups. They are now part of the core Adwords interface, which positions them well to be used in search campaigns. There is no solid evidence to back this up, but don’t be surprised if Google start rolling out video ads on the right-hand-side of search results soon. If you need some advice on video creation, our experienced creative studio are happy to oblige. By 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic.