Google Kills Right-Rail SERP Ads — Here’s Where To Make Up The Gaps

Google has put down the right-rail ads in their search results

In case you missed the big SEM news, Google is nixing the right-rail ads on desktop search results. At the same time, for “highly commercial queries,” the search giant will be adding a fourth ad above the results.

Naturally, the response to this announcement has been one of concern over higher competition for fewer ad slots — unsurprising, as reducing the supply of ads per page by 63% (11 ads currently with three at the top and eight on the right vs. only the top four) without any major change to demand will lead to quite a few search advertisers being left out in the cold.

Speaking with Re/code, DigitasLBi SVP Shreya Kushari characterized the move by Google 
“They’re trying to squeeze the brands to work a lot more.” Kushari predicted that “Our cost-per-clicks are going to go up because we’re going to bid aggressively to be on the first four.”

Over at ZDnet, Larry Dignan pointed out that “small businesses are hosed,” while also noting that “large companies will (feel the squeeze) too. Google just grabbed more of your budget.”

Some of the hardest-hit advertisers may end up being big agencies and brands in highly-competitive markets like automotive, finance and health. With CPCs that are already significantly higher than your average run-of-the-mill search query, this creates a host of new problems, such as:

  • Share of voice — do you have more than 3 competitors for a non-branded keyword? Good luck getting your ad seen
  • Conquesting — very difficult, but even more difficult when you go from 11 possible locations to 3 or 4
  • Ramping campaigns quickly — running a spring sales event on queries you didn’t have ads for before? Now you have to beat out established advertisers who have been dominating those queries to fill one of a very few slots
  • Cannibalization — automotive, in particular, may see this as OEMs, tier 2 networks and individual dealerships joust for branded query ad spaces

Several years ago I ran a study on the value of search result positioning, back when Google still passed the position of a click in the inbound URL. Unsurprisingly, going from page 1 to page 2 is the most significant dropoff in traffic, even more — percentage wise — than the drop from the #1 spot to #2. Now, advertisers are going to face that massive dropoff after just four ads shown, meaning, obviously, that being in the top 4 ads is not just useful, but a necessity for any campaign to create value.

So, what can brands do now that first-page paid search results are set to be cut so dramatically? There’s a few options:

  • Ratchet up your AdWords bids significantly — remember that Google’s downloadable AdWords tool will report an estimated “first-page bid” and make sure you’re well over that
  • Put more of your search spend into Bing, Yahoo!, even Ask — they do, after all, comprise a non-trivial 35.4% of all desktop searches when combined
  • Shift more of your search spend to Swoop — our CPAs rival those of current AdWords results, so as Google’s CPCs go up, Swoop should be able to give you search queries at much better rates that convert into actions
  • Move money out of search and into real-time bidding desks, although given our take on RTB as a prisoner’s dilemma, we probably wouldn’t recommend that

Pushing advertisers to other channels and vendors seems to be a strong possibility. In an interview with AdAge, PM Digital’s VP of Search Valerie Davis notes that her firm “already (has) some clients looking for alternatives to Google given the ongoing price increases. This will push advertisers to other channels and vendors.”

Naturally, we at Swoop think we’re the answer — otherwise we wouldn’t be here, pushing this narrative. All the success our clients have had extending their search campaigns throughout our network tells us that it works, and it works as well as advertising on the major search engines.

If you’d like to chat with us about how we can make your search advertising better, even in the face of potentially skyrocketing CPCs and drastically declining inventory from the world’s biggest search engine, contact us today.

We can help. Really.

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