Google has removed sidebar ads – what does this mean for SEO & the world of organic search?

24 February 2016

Google has removed sidebar ads – what does this mean for SEO & the world of organic search?

In the last few days Google have killed sidebar ads for ‘commercial keywords’, this is a global move effective immediately, at least for now….

Apart from the hysteria about loss in organic search visibility and increases in costs of pay per click (PPC), here are the facts:

  • Side bar PPC ads no longer appear for ‘commercial keywords’
  • There are now up to 4 top PPC ads, as opposed to 3
  • Organic search results have been pushed further below the fold
  • 9 – 10 organic search results appear to be shown on page one
  • Local map listings are still present where relevant
  • Google news stories are still present where relevant
  • Bottom-of-page ads are still present

The search engine giant is constantly testing, so there’s no way of knowing whether this is a permanent change, or simply an experiment to shake things up temporarily. However, it looks like a move to a mobile-first proposition which was inevitable; after all Google are long behind the likes of Facebook and Instagram in moving towards mobile-first.

What does this change mean for organic search and SEO?

Organic search space is harder to come by, so yes, the pressure is on to maintain existing volumes of ‘free’ traffic to your website. With an additional PPC ad above the fold, organic listings are one scroll further than they were last week. This could mean a slight reduction in click through rate for a ‘position one’ organic ranking. That said, there are certainly positives on this change for the SEO world. With an inevitable increase in cost per click of search ads, brands may decide to focus a little less on the quick win nature of PPC, and put more of their eggs into the longer term organic search strategy basket.

A blended search strategy has never been more essential. Brands must make decisions about high converting keywords to focus PPC spend into, and those phrases which are best to focus an SEO solution around.

What are the best SEO solutions in light of the change?

It’s never been more important to have a search result that stands out, some quick tips to ensure this is the case:

  1. Optimise your page titles (the oldest trick in the book but still a good one)
  2. Treat meta descriptions like ad copy – prioritise encouraging click through rate!
  3. Utilise rich snippets, schema & microdata – the more real estate the better so add star ratings, breadcrumbs, cookery time – the works!
  4. Local SEO isn’t going away – optimise for local listings! (Streamline citations for Name, Address, Postcode)
  5. Google News is here to stay (for now) – consider whether this is a relevant platform for your brand.
  6. Keep building your brand – the ultimate aim is that your brand is the ‘go to’ search term, so you capture them in the early research stages and they remember who you are for next time. (This TripAdvisor campaign is a great example).

This won’t be the last experiment we see from Google, after all it’s their job to continuously optimise search results for users… (And find ways to create more revenue for themselves?) Cynical views aside, the change has happened… so keep an eye on how this is affecting your traffic and ensure you have smart future proof organic strategies to capture as much relevant traffic in the most cost-effective manner.