News & Insights


The Most Significant Google AdWords Updates of 2016

pwd staff OLIVER WOOD
Oliver Wood

|8th January 2017

Google is constantly refining its ranking algorithm to deliver more relevant results.

If the quality of the results started to suffer with spammy or low quality pages, users would turn to alternative search engines. In fact, Google is said to make hundreds of changes to its algorithm each year. There is also the occasional update that has major impacts on the search results.

An example of several major updates over the last few years include:

  • Panda: This update penalises sites with thin or low quality content while pushing rankings higher for more authoritative sites. Panda is now part of the core algorithm.
  • Penguin: The Penguin update was released to combat sites engaged in manipulative tactics to increase their rankings such as participating in link schemes. This update is also part of the core algorithm and processes in real-time.
  • Mobile friendly update: Recognising the increase in mobile usage, Google rolled out an update last year that made mobile friendliness a ranking factor.

So why are these updates important?

Because just as Google is constantly changing its ranking algorithm, the same is also true for AdWords.

New changes are routinely being tested but several are now permanent. Which means that advertisers must adapt or they risk potentially losing a competitive advantage, like not taking full advantage of new features.

With that said, the following looks at some of the most significant changes to Google AdWords in 2016.

Removal of the Right-Side Ads

Perhaps the biggest changes that Google made is with the removal of the right-side ads on the desktop search results. Now ads are displayed at the top and bottom of the page. Extra space was also added above the organic search results to display more ads.

Here is Google’s official statement on the removal of the side ads:

“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.”

The changes affect all desktop searches worldwide. Here is an example of what the search results look like with the new update:


The search interface now looks much cleaner.

The new changes were primarily made to drive more ad revenue and to make the layout more in line with the mobile search results. But it also benefits advertisers as it means more space for ad extensions (e.g. sitelinks, call extensions, etc.) and an opportunity to attract more clicks.

One downside though for those involved in SEO is that the organic results are farther down the page. Even if you were in the first position for your keywords, traffic could take a hit. This is why advertising on AdWords for keywords relevant to your business is a good idea.

Expanded Text Ads

Previously, advertisers had very little space to work with when writing text ads.

But another significant change that Google made last year is with the introduction of expanded text ads. The new changes were made with mobile in mind and to allow advertisers to better communicate their value. Here is an example of what expanded text ads look like and how they are different to standard text ads:


The differences between the two are immediate. The most obvious is that advertisers are now able to include a longer headline and description, potentially attracting more click with better copy.

According to reports from Google, some advertisers have reported higher clickthrough rates (up to 20%) with expanded text ads. If you advertise with AdWords, then this is a feature you will definitely want to take advantage of by rewriting existing ads to make the most of the extra space.

Responsive Display Ads

Advertising on the Display Network has the potential to drive more clicks to your landing pages. The downside though is that creating ads for different formats such as text ads and skyscrapers can be a rather tedious process.

So Google introduced Responsive Display Ads which automatically adjust their size and format according to the ad space available. For example, you could have ads that display a text ad on one site and a native banner on another. Advertisers simply need to provide a URL, headline, description, and an image, and Google takes care of the rest.


According to details from Google, the Display Network spans over two million websites and reaches over 90% of online users. Responsive Display Ads greatly increase your reach and save a great deal of time in the process.

Bid Adjustments For Device Types

Clicks have different values depending on the time of day and device they come from.

For example, searches during rush hour on a mobile device would be far more valuable to local business owners than a similar search that takes place after hours. Google released more flexible features that let advertisers set individual bid adjustments according to device type.

Here is an example that Google provides on bid adjustments to illustrate how this works:


If your analytics data reveals higher conversions for certain days of the week on mobile devices, you could adjust your bids by setting a percentage you are willing to pay. Making these adjustments then means potentially pushing your ads further up the search results and driving more sales. Note that you could either increase or decrease your bids.

The new bid adjustments feature gives advertisers more control and flexibility over how their ads display.

What Changes Will Google Make in 2017?

No can say for sure what changes Google will implement this year.

Google is constantly working to testing new features to improve AdWords. Some of these changes have major implications for advertisers such as expanded text ads while others are more subtle such as interface tweaks. The key though is to stay up to date with the latest changes and to test new features as they become available.