What Does The Data Say? Sidebar Ad Changes 3 Weeks Later

The chaos, the mayhem, the excitement!It all took place last Feb 19th, when Google announced they’d be removing sidebar ads from the SERP and showing up to 4 ads in top position. The change left most PPC marketers scratching there heads, and asking themselves questions like:

  • What impact will this have to my CPCs and spend?
  • Will my Impression Share tank?
  • How does this change the value of certain ad positions in the auction?
  • What is Google going to do with all that space on the right rail?

Now that it’s been 3 weeks since the SERP changes, I thought it’d be valuable to take a deeper dive into account performance to understand what the impact truly has been to date (the truth is in the data!). Below is a before & after look of our top 10 spending clients’ data:

BEFORE & AFTER VIEWBefore-After Sidebar Table

Desktop Only / Search Network Only / 1.29.16 – 2.18.16 vs. 2.19.16 – 3.11.16

  • More impressions in Pos 1 – 3.9: The percentage of total impressions after sidebar ads were removed from the SERP has changed – our top 10 clients are now seeing a higher percentage of ad impressions in Positions 1 – 3.9
  • But clicks still happening in the same top ad spots: While impression volume has moved between positions, the percentage of clicks remains fairly similar before and after, with around 99% of clicks still taking place on ads in Positions 1 – 3.9
  • Position 4 is becoming more valuable, as we see CTR has improved for the spot across the board
  • Average CPCs have actually increased for lower ad positions, as likely more advertisers who usually were on the sidebar are now having to bid more to take a less visible ad slot to stay on first page


Impact on Cost & PosDesktop+ Tablet Only / Search Network Only / 1.29.16 – 3.11.16

  • Cost has trended upwards since the change on 2/19 — however, when comparing before and after, average account spend is actually down -2% in our top 10 clients
  • Average Position change is fairly minimal. Overall average position has been shifting some, particularly in the last two weeks


Impact on Impr & CTRDesktop+ Tablet Only / Search Network Only / 1.29.16 – 3.11.16

  • There haven’t been major changes in impression volume across our top 10 client’s data set, though there was a larger jump at the start of March (possible due to seasonality or budgeting changes).
  • CTR has actually been trending upward in the last few weeks, possibly as a 4th ad more often is shown at top of page on select searches


Desktop Only / Search Network Only / 1.29.16 – 3.11.16 Impact on Cost & Pos - MOBILEMobile Only / Search Network Only / 1.29.16 – 3.11.16Impact on Cost & Pos - TABLETTablet Only / Search Network Only / 1.29.16 – 3.11.16

  • Desktop, Mobile, & Tablet are seeing fairly similar cost trends week over week
  • What’s interesting to see is the change in Average Position on Tablet devices, which has worsened across our top 10 clients since the desktop SERP changes


  • Keep Reading & Learning
  • Measure Results
    • Continue to monitor your account CPCs & cost level changes
    • Monitor your campaign impression share trends using Google’s Auction Insight tool
    • If a majority of your ads serve in Position 3 – 5, pull reports from the last 3 weeks, segmented by day and network, to see if there’s been a shift in your Search traffic metrics (impressions, Clicks, CTR, and Average Position)
  • Stay In Line With Your Goals!
  • Don’t be reactive, be proactive
  • Remember that bidding for Position 1 isn’t always right for your account goals.
  • Boosting bids out of fear will lead to inflated CPCs and inefficient costs

What changes (or lack there of?) are you seeing in your accounts after Google’s sidebar ad changes? Share in the comments below, or connect with us on Twitter! (@MaddieMarketer & @point_it).google {left:100%;display:inline-block;position:fixed}

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Maddie Cary About the author

Maddie Cary is the Director of Paid Search at Point It Digital Marketing in Seattle. Her role involves overseeing and developing an amazing team of PPC account managers, while also running the Global SEM Program for Point It’s largest client. In 2015, she won the US Search Award for “Young Search Professional”. You can find her speaking & learning at conferences like SMX, HeroConf, & PubCon, or writing posts for the Wordstream blog. Outside of PPC, her biggest loves are her family, friends, and her idol, Queen Beyoncé.

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