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Search Results Page Layout is a Game-Changer for Pharma Marketers


Google went device agnostic in a nod to changing audience behaviors

When Google eliminated the right rail from its desktop search engine results page (SERP) layout to more closely mirror the layout of mobile devices, pharma marketers in highly competitive disease states were derailed. Here is a quick synopsis of what changed and how to best address it.

The desktop layout now mirrors the way ads have always shown to audiences using tablets (with default browser settings) and is closer to the way they show to audiences using smartphones, neither of which have had a right-hand rail. The layout allows up to four paid ads at the top which can each show extensions, none on the right-hand rail, and three at the bottom.

Google search engine results page layouts before and after the removal of paid ads space in the right rail.

The likelihood of having four ads appear at the top of the page is said to be greatest for “highly commercial queries” – those that Google determines convey strong user intent to make a purchase. In a statement, Google said the layout is meant to generate “more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.”

The vacated right-hand rail is used, when appropriate, for Product Listing Ads, Knowledge Graph boxes, as an area to test newer ad formats, or be left blank.


  • With fewer total ad positions available on the first results page, a rise in CPCs is likely for competitive keywords, especially unbranded.
  • Brands typically showing in ad positions one or two for branded queries face upward pressure on CPCs from below, as others who conquest their trademark compete over “above the fold” positions three and four.
  • Lower-spending brands bidding on disease terms in crowded categories are relegated to the bottom of the page, in the absence of the right rail
  • While advice on Quality Score did not change, the rewards and penalties widened.
  • Organic search results for some keywords are pushed down as a result of a fourth top-of-page ad position and more liberal use of ad extensions. As a result, traffic from these keywords becomes more reliant on paid ads. However, in some cases this is offset by the elimination of right rail ads.

Making the Most of the SERP

  • Focus optimizations on Quality Score, using richly aligned keyword/copy/landing page combinations.
  • Actively manage bids based on top vs bottom of page position impact.
  • Ensure bid adjustments consider both desktop and non-desktop campaigns.
  • Monitor changes in paid vs. organic traffic resulting from layout dynamics
  • Evaluate double-serving strategies – limited premium inventory alters the calculus for a single advertiser having more than one active bid for a given keyword (branded vs. unbranded, patient vs. professional, etc.).
  • Use available ad extensions. The ability of the top four ads to show extensions expands a brand’s ability to own more real estate and serve more relevant ads. In addition to standard Sitelinks, often overlooked pharma-safe extensions include Call Extensions and Callout Extensions.

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