Google’s Shift to 4 Ads on Top

Google recently announced that they are dropping text ads from the right sidebar of desktop search results which is currently live worldwide across and its search partners.

As part of this change Google has aggressively started ramping up the number of ads showing at the top of their main search results from 3 to 4 ads for what they deem “higly commercial queries.” Early estimates in a recent study from Dr. Pete Meyers at Moz put the number of search queries with 4 ads up to as much as 36%.

What does this mean for SEO?

The 4th paid ad position is the new position 1 in natural search. Natural search results are continuing to be pushed “below the fold” at a much higher rate. Expect that natural search visits and click through rate could decline as a result. The degree of the change depends on what percentage of ad adverse consumers continue to scroll directly to the unpaid natural search ads.

What does this mean for Paid Search? 

The maximum number of paid ads in search results will be declining from 11 possible ads to only 7. At the same time these 7 ads will be in much more prominent, premium positions. There are a number of theories as to how this will impact paid search as a channel, but the most likely scenario is that over the long term it will drive up competition and increase cost per click rates. The right side rail ads, once seens as a way to get a bargain buy will no longer be available, leading all bidders to duke it out over the 4 positions on top and 3 positions below the main search results.

There is alot of discussion about this change within the industry as with any update like this there is alot of misinformation and hysteria. Ultimately this is a change that will have an impact on the overall mix to natural and paid search. In order to best adapt, I recommend waiting a few weeks until you have a good sample of data and then doing a close analysis of the performance of both channels and develop a strategy  to adapt to the environment and make it work for  you and your organization. On the paid side alot of companies are keeping their bids in place in the short term, so it could be a while before any changes to paid search costs are apparent, but we expect that the SEO impact will be apparent earlier.

Google Search Layout Change


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Google’s Shift to 4 Ads on Top