AdWords Right Column is Gone: Where to Find Some Budget for Higher CPCs

No right-column means some Adwords keywords need to be reassessed. Here's a keyword segment you can adjust in the near-term with minimal risks.



February 25, 2016


AdWords removing the right-column ads is a big deal for paid search marketers, especially if raising your budget isn’t an option. You need to be proactive in adapting, but there is only so much you can do with limited data.

No doubt, you will want to collect data and do some position analysis to find your new sweet spot, but you may have no choice but to adjust bids and AdWords budgets to keep things steady in the short-term.

What You’re (Probably) Doing Right Now

I’m taking for granted that you’ll initially bid up to maintain impression share for your best performing keywords.

After that’s done, I suggest taking a close look at the high-traffic, but poor converting keywords that you’ve been running for either brand awareness or new visitor acquisition. These are the ones where you might have leeway to cut bids without seriously impacting sales or other KPIs.

What High-Traffic, Low-Converting Keywords?

PPC managers keep these keywords going because they introduce new prospects to the brand, “defend” search visibility, and/or move prospects into the funnel where either another channel or different keywords can convert them. These are also sometimes keywords that senior leaders insist be bid on regardless of transactional ROI.

If you were traditionally targeting these high-traffic/low-convert keywords to the right-column, then you’ll need to raise their bids to get into the top-of-page region or see traffic fall. If you were running these keywords at top-of-page, then you’ll be spending more to keep them there. In either case, you’ll be increasing account cost for keywords that might not be worth it. Unless you can immediately raise prices, this situation will lead to higher account costs that will negatively affect your A/S (or ROAS — to each his own).

You shouldn’t try to make big decisions about these keywords with only a few days of data, but they are a prime target for cost shaving, especially if you can drill down and get a real sense of their value.

Making a Quick Assessment

You will have a lot of historical data on these keywords because they generate a lot of impressions and clicks. However, the removal of right-column in Adwords is makes that data less valuable since you can’t compare apples to apples in terms of placement. It will still help, but remind yourself to use it more as a directional signal.

For now, we’ll use what we’ve got to make some informed but not necessarily optimal decisions.

Some Questions to Ask:

  1. What percentage of your site’s new visitors are coming from these keywords?
  2. What percentage of ad spend do these keywords represent?
  3. How effectively are we converting that new PPC visitor to a customer?
  4. What’s the LTV of a customer acquired through PPC?
  5. Is it more cost-effective to attract new users through a different channel? How much so? And how long to reach parity with PPCs contribution?
  6. Is the site setup to maximize engagement with the new visitor (personalization, CTAs, lead nurturing, etc.)?

If you’re using these keywords to drive new visits but aren’t usually looking at short-term sales, then you’ll need to take a longer and multi-channel view to calculate the value. If you are expecting these keywords to convert in a more typical 30-90 day timeframe, then you can use a lot of your standard reporting to figure things out. Once you’ve got your answers, you can build a bidding approach.

Remember that I’m presenting this as a short-term approach while you collect data to do a more comprehensive review. Don’t set it & forget it. –Chris

Some simplified bidding approaches might be:

High New Visitors Contribution, Low Conversion Contribution

  • Start lowering to you get into the mid-3s (e.g. 3.3-3.8 avg pos.)
  • Build out more exact match from your search query reports to shave costs while staying presents
  • Pause the highest cost keywords
  • Ad negatives to improve conversion rates even if you lose some traffic

The reasoning here is that you want to gradually reduce costs on these keywords, but you don’t want an immediate drop in new visitors. You move to the mid-3s to stay visible without paying a premium for the top spot. You get rid of the highest cost keywords immediately. You then work on shaving off more irrelevant clicks through negatives.

Purchase Starters: First- or Last-Touch on Conversions

  • Maintain/raise to keep average position for now
  • Segment these keywords by conversion rate
  • Shift budget toward higher converting keyword segments
  • Decrease bid and/or budget for lower converting keywords segment
  • Look at landing page optimization for all of them.

The reasoning here is that you want to keep generating returns from these keywords, but some are going to be more valuable than others. If you can shift spend toward the higher converters, then you’ll keep the better traffic and possibly most of the volume.

A downside of these approaches is that they are not particularly nuanced. You might have very different Adwords ROI across geographies, business lines or product categories. Please do incorporate this data and use it to build a stronger approach. However, this analysis and the bid approaches are a good starting point and will let you quickly adjust to our new AdWords bidding realities.

Good luck.

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