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Google Killed the Sidebar: What’s Happened Since?

In a recent blog post, we covered the news that Google had deleted sidebar ads. Now that it’s been a few weeks, search engine marketers and online advertisers are starting to see how the drastic move has impacted the online marketing field, including for law firms.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising Gets More Expensive

Saturn Vue 2013 Google search without sidebar ads
Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission.

By eliminating the sidebar from the search engine results page (SERP), Google got rid of a lot of space for pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements. Even though they moved some of these into the main results area and increased the number of PPCs allowed in the main listing, there is still less space for paid ads than there was before.

With fewer PPC possibilities for a given search, the cost to get some of the space that’s still available has increased significantly.

With PPC price growing, smaller players in the online marketing game – solo practices and small firms – have scrambled to adapt as they get bought out by the big firms for coveted ad space. Some are targeting new, less expensive keywords to try to compete without the expense of paying for the big searches. Some are moving towards other search engines, like Bing, and putting their paid advertising money there. Still others are shifting their focus from paid ads to organic advertising, and investing more heavily in their site’s content and search engine optimization (SEO).

Organic Results Pushed Down By PPCs

When it killed the sidebar, Google moved some of the PPCs that had been there into the main results listing, where there are usually 3 or fewer paid entries at the top and bottom. Google had said that it would only increase the number of PPC ads in the main listing from 3 ads to 4 if the search was “highly commercial.”

Unfortunately, it’s becoming apparent that most searches are considered “highly commercial.”

The result is that there are now frequently 4 PPC advertisements at the top of a given search. The jump from 3 to 4 might seem insignificant, but the difference is huge – now most internet users have to scroll down before they see the first organic result in the listing.

This can be especially problematic for firms that target older audiences online, as they are typically unable to see the difference between paid advertisements and organic results on a SERP.

For even the internet savvy searcher, though, the decreased prominence given to organic results means that law firms need to be perfect in order to make their sites noticeable on targeted searches.

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