During about a week in February ’16, Google removed Adwords PPC ads from the right side of desktop search results (mobile never had them). More importantly for your SEO performance than for your PPC, Google also added a slot to the ads on top, for a total of 4. This pushes down organic listings and subsequent traffic to websites.
This change continues a several year trend of ever less top screen space devoted to organic results. I’ve said for years that investing little or nothing in SEO means, on average, losing 6% to 10% per year in organic traffic. This trend continues. In other words, merely maintaining organic traffic is really a 6% to 10% improvement.
The four PPC ads appearing in smaller mobile screens will depress organic traffic from smartphones and some tablets more than desktop, and that traffic is close to 50% web-wide.
Stats have yet to emerge on the web-wide impact on organic traffic. Reportedly, four PPC ads appear only for competitive commercial searches, but most fields are competitive, and my spot checking all kinds of clients showed 4 ads most of the time. One study shows the number of four PPC ads increasing rapidly now.
The upshot is that you should add a 2/15/16 notation about this in your Google Analytics, and check your results before and after.
What can be done to compensate? In general, keep investing in SEO, like you do in other sales and marketing. More specifically, deploy schema.org markup and other tactics to ensure a good Google Knowledge Panel, which is in the upper right of Google search pages and summarizes entities, like businesses or rockstars or museums or most anything. It’s a good bet that Google will increasingly use the right side of desktop for special content, like medical condition summaries, flight status, definitions, and anything else relevant to a search. This data often comes from schema.org mark-up.
Of course this PPC change impacts Adwords management, but any good AdWords pro will know what to do, and this is just one small part of the PPC dashboard that rivals a fighter pilot cockpit. It’s really business as usual for PPC.