Digital Marketing: Losing Google's Holy Grail Won't Send the Temple Walls Crashing Down

Finding the Holy Grail is the stuff that movie legends are made of but, apologies to Indiana Jones, the recent angst over losing Google’s right rail for paid search ads — now that was real drama.

The Google Adwords program was one of the original forms of paid advertising on the Internet, and it long has been a stalwart in the digital marketing world. The idea was simple: Potential customer enters a search phrase or question related to a business or service and, for the right price, an ad for your business pops up on the first or second search engine results page (SERP).

The look of those SERPs has changed over time, and each incarnation has sparked speculation and apprehension. Dropping the right-rail ads is no exception.

Moving Targets

Before the most recent change, the standard layout on the desktop for paid search ad results was three ads on top, four on the right rail, and maybe one or two on the bottom. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, the right-rail paid ads were gone. Poof! Cue shock, awe and major drama among some marketers.

In the new format, Google is placing four ads above the organic search results (as opposed to three) and three ads at the bottom, below the organic search results.

Google says the changes are all about a better user experience for both desktop and mobile users. In reality, the right-rail ads haven’t been showing on mobile search results for quite a long time now.

Pay to Play

When search engine marketing specialists saw Google’s latest shenanigans, heads began exploding all over the Internet. What would it mean? Would cost-per-click go up? Will rankings drop?


Will the consequences match the hype? Probably not. It’s true that if you want the top spots on the SERP (and you do), you have to pay the piper. But so far, marketers haven’t seen dramatic increases in the CPC for the top positions.

As far as the right-rail positions go, those positions haven’t been getting as much attention as the top three spots for quite some time anyway. Eye-tracking studies have shown that the top left corner of the SERP was getting more attention than the right side of the page.

So if meaningful clicks and measurable conversions are your goal, losing this real estate won’t have that much of an effect on your pay-per-click (PPC) performance.


Those that rely only on search engine optimization (SEO) for most of their marketing instead of perhaps incorporating both SEO and paid search might find their visibility affected. A good SEO strategy still is important, but the fourth PPC ad on top will push organic results that much farther down on the page.

This is not to say you should abandon your SEO strategy. Businesses should keep an eye on both their SEO ranking and PPC budget as this little drama continues to play out. If anything, the change makes using both tactics more important than ever.

As always, it’s important to strive for a good mix of tactics. Complement your SEM and SEO with social media marketing, targeted display and video marketing. Digital marketing demands that businesses continually adjust their strategies to adapt to new technology and innovations.

When Google changes the treasure map, don’t give up — just move the “X” for your holy grail.

Regina Gilloon-Meyer is a content marketing specialist for Fusionfarm, a division of The Gazette Company; (319) 368-8530,, @Regiimary

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