SEOs have had a difficult time in the past few years.

From being lauded as game-changers for businesses, to practitioners of the digital dark arts, they enjoy a mixed response across the digital industry. From Hummingbird to Penguin, from Mobilegeddon to ‘The Quality Update’, they’ve hurdled more algorithm updates than the theory of relativity.

But soon they’ll be getting a big boost to their credentials, and it all starts here:

Yup, that’s right: Google are making another change to their Adwords, and it’s a big one.

So what’s happening?

Google have confirmed they are removing ads from the right hand side of its desktop search results. Ads will then only display at the top and bottom of the page.

Let’s make this clear: Google are effectively reducing the number of ads you will see in SERPs from 8, to 3.

It’s a dramatic change for the PPC aspect of Google’s search offerings, and will certainly give a lot of marketers food for thought. Tactics, for instance, may have to change in the face of increased competition. Put it this way: 8 does not go into 3 quietly.

It is worth keeping in mind, however, that Google have explained they may also show an additional ad above the search results for what it calls “highly commercial queries”. Product Listing Ad (PLA) boxes will also continue to show both above and to the right of search results. Because if Google has any one mantra, it’s that “if it’s useful” But these are for very specific queries, meaning that although PPC is far, far from ‘dead’, SEO is going to have an added advantage for those longtail keywords.

And why are SEOs leaping out of their seats in joy?

Because this is a massive opportunity and show of faith from Google in it’s organic search results. Effectively this change means more organic results will appear above the fold to searchers, meaning more chance that they will click through in the SERPs. 3 ads to distract from organic results, instead of 8.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s more than half of your paid competition eliminated. That’s a big boost to your SEO. Reducing the number of ads on a page has a two-fold effect: less Ads means the remaining three get higher attention, but more interestingly, that prime real-estate in the results is laid out for organic search to take advantage. And who can help businesses climb the SERPs? Obviously SEOs.

So yeah, basically SEOs just got a big fat boost in their value for businesses – because Paid Search will become increasingly competitive and tougher to crack in Google unless you have EXACTLY what the searcher/customer wants.

More to come…

I’ll be adding more info as we get it, along with a bit more of a detailed observation of potential opportunities SEOs should take advantage of.

In the meantime, what do you think this will mean for PPC-ers and SEOs? Do you think it’s a seismic shift in search, or no big deal? Comment away and let’s see what we all think.

Update – 24/02/16:
Google’s removal of its right hand side ads is causing quite a stir online

At the time of writing, there’s quite a lot of conversation going on between search marketers, both paid orientated or organic, on the consequences of this decision. A lot seems to be focused on the potentially seismic impact this will have on SMEs (Small-Medium Enterprises) for Paid Search. In short, it could really shut SMEs out of contention for those top 3-4 ad slots, simply because they don’t have the spending power of bigger companies. Bigger CPC (Cost Per Click) means less accessibility for smaller businesses. Which is a big shame.

Still, I maintain that SEO will continue to be even more valuable to such businesses as a result of this change. Why? Because we all know that just because you’re a big business, doesn’t mean you are any good at creating good, quality, useful content. So go go go SEOs! Optimise that content, and the web is your client’s oyster!

After tweeting a few influencers, Rand Fishkin of Moz and Sam Hurley engaged with me in a fairly interesting conversation:

I don’t think Sam is the only one to feel this way about the move – it seems that an overwhelming majority are concerned at the cynical nature of this change from Google.

Here’s Rand’s response:

Sam does raise a very valid point though:

My feelings were as follows:

…and…

Personally, I feel like people are really overestimating the effect 1 additional ad at the top ‘pushing down’ organic results will have, and hugely underestimating the clarity removing the right hand ads will have on organic search.

This does, however, depend on how “ad blind” users are…

Further reading

Both Econsultancy and Search Engine Watch have some very good articles on what this change could mean for marketers, and input from a number of knowledgeable influencers in the industry.

I’ve also found that HubSpot’s article ‘Google’s Removing Right-Side Ads, But How Will It Impact Organic Search Results?‘ is also a great read. Again, though, the focus seems to be largely on how this change will affect PPC rather than SEO. I’m still waiting to hear from the bigger SEO powerhouses on the difference this will make, and how they see the ‘challenge’ of the possible 4th Ad. Watch this space…

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