By the time you read this, it will be over two weeks (with much online debate) since Google changed the display of right hand ads on their SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). What you see now on searches looks like this:
No more will you see the skinny column on the right with listings of sponsored ads, each vying for their own piece of real estate on desktop. There are now fewer ad slots to bid for at either the top or bottom of a results page. In December, Google began experimenting with the display of 4 ads at the top of the page but the reality is that this testing has been going on since 2010. There will be exceptions to the rule however, with Google confirming that the right hand space will be used for Product Listing Ads as well as ads in the Knowledge Panel.
It's a contentious move and one that no-one, at the moment, can say what the long-term effect will be. What is obvious is that simply reducing the number of ads, advertisers are ultimately going to have to pay more (particularly for position 4 which will only appear for highly commercial queries) or at least become more savvy in terms of how they approach bidding wars for specific terms. An article by Barry Schwartz in Search Engine Roundtable says that for now CTR (Click Through Rate) is, in his words, 'sky-rocketing'.
What we can't argue with however, is the cleaner page layout on desktop which has been rolled out globally and in all languages and looks more in keeping with the mobile view. An interesting article by Matt Lawson, himself a columnist and Google employee, in Search Engine Land puts a positive slant on this development. As Matt states, 'The majority of our searches happen on mobile these days, which has no right-hand-side ads.' and argues that this move by Google is to 'improve the user experience on Google Search.' If people aren't finding ads on the right useful, Google is merely responding to its customers' needs.
Interestingly, Matt also disputes the claim that smaller advertisers will have to pay more and even goes so far as to say that, 'There have been no appreciable changes to costs-per-click in aggregate'. His advice? Don't overreact and keep monitoring activity which may mean you have to tweak your Adwords strategy and ensure that your ads are still working for you, in the right place with the right outcome.