Major Google Search Engine Results Changes Are Here

February 23, 2016 by admin in Media

On February 20, our Google team confirmed a major change to the search engine results page (SERP) affecting sidebar ads.

As of Friday, Feb. 19, Google will start gradually removing sidebar ads with one exception (Google Shopping, aka Product Listing Ads or PLAs), and instead place four ads at the top of search results and three ads at the bottom of the page for desktop and tablet (mobile is still being tested).

This is a big change as it essentially cuts the ad depth (the amount of ads per page) in half. Sidebar ads have been around in paid media since the very beginning, and many small businesses rely on these ads to be present in competitive auctions.

Google explained that the decision was made based on extensive testing and they believe it will result in a better overall user experience. Whether it’s a very calculated business decision or truly being made in the best interest of users and their search intent remains to be seen.

Additional Details

  • Up to four ads will now be displayed at the top of search results.
  • Google estimates around 3 percent of all queries will now show four ads at the top of search results.
  • Right-hand text ads will be removed for all queries.
  • Ads will be displayed at the bottom of the page more often — up to three ads may be displayed at the bottom of SERPs.
  • Google Shopping/Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and Knowledge Graph, as well as image, news and map listings, will be unaffected.
  • Google does not anticipate any impact on organic traffic in total — however, we believe there definitely will be, especially for users on devices with low-resolution screens.
  • The changes currently impact desktop and tablet platforms only — mobile is still being tested for four top ads.
  • Google will be moving away from six sitelinks to two, but these two will be extended as part of this launch.
  • We have not received any information as to the use of the right-hand space on SERPs, but we are monitoring this closely.

Example Google SERP

Factors and Impacts

  • Since the overall auction depth decreased, we anticipate an increase in CPCs where the depth is above four.
  • In order to get into these coveted spots, Quality Score will be a major factor:
    • Since sitelinks are being reduced from six to two, the ad unit will be a factor to test, aside from the normal ad copy testing.
  • We believe that users who are in the top positions should see an increase in click share.
  • We do believe there will be a slight reduction in organic clicks when four ads are present, but this will depend on screen resolution, desktop vs. laptop and other factors.
  • Ad extensions (callout, review, call, location, apps, etc.) will be more important to implement in order to capture more screen real estate.
  • Bid management will be more important as maintaining performance in a smaller auction will be harder to implement manually.
  • There should be an increase in performance and clicks for product listing ads as screen real estate should increase for those ad units.
  • Having an omnichannel presence (local, organic, paid) will be more important than ever for capturing click share.


This is a big change and Ethology is committed to being proactive and making any adjustments necessary to ensure performance remains consistent and does not suffer. Our Client Services team will work with our delivery teams to provide transparency regarding any change in strategy and how it could potentially impact performance.

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