What Is the AdWords Shake-Up Algorithm Update?

The AdWords Shake-Up Update is a change to Google’s algorithm that alters how paid search ads show up on search engine results pages, or SERPs.

Prior to the change, ads showed on the top of these SERPs as well as on the right-hand side of the page.

As of February 23, 2016 when the update was rolled out, ads no longer show on the right-hand side and the total number of ad on the page are minimized.

Some ads were also moved to the very bottom of the SERPs. 

Why the AdWords Shake-up Update?

There are many different theories as to why Google implemented this change to its algorithms for search ads.

As is the case with a lot of things Google does, we may never know the real motivation for the AdWords Shake-up. Even so, here’s our take on it:

User Intent

If you know anything about Google, you know the search engine has a preoccupation with user intent.

Whether this is a healthy or unhealthy preoccupation is a topic for another blog post. 

Either way, this new update for Google’s Adwords is very likely a move towards presenting more relevant search results for particular search queries based on what the search engine decides users intend to find on SERPs.

If they’re not looking to buy something, then ads aren’t necessarily relevant at all and should be minimized both in terms of placement on the page and in terms of quantity. 


As much as Google likes to say they’re hyper-focused on the user experience, the company certainly isn’t above making moves for sheer profit. In fact, the Adwords Shakeup Algorithm Update helped google profit an additional $16,000,000,000 in one year!

And ads are its number one moneymaker.

The changes implemented through the AdWords Shake-up algorithm update make those first three ad spots on SERPs much more valuable to PPC advertisers.

How much will they be willing to pay to stay on top? Perhaps Google wants to find out. 

To Match Mobile Search

Ads on the right-hand side of SERPs have never shown up on mobile search.

Presumably, there just isn’t enough space on an iPhone (or Android) screen to show these peripheral ads.

Thus, this most recent Google update to AdWords could be an attempt to standardize ad placement for both mobile and desktop search.

After all, we know Google is currently obsessed with all things mobile. 

What’s Changed with the AdWords Update?

There are several changes that took place with this 2016 Google algorithm update.

Let’s look at a few of the most important ones in detail:

Less Total Ads (Maximum of 7)


Prior to the algorithm update, up to 11 ads were displayed on SERPs depending on the search query. Now, that number is limited to 7 (up to 4 on top and 3 at the bottom).

Not every search query will trigger all 7 ads though. The number will vary from one search to the next. 

4 Ads for “Highly Commercial Searches”

With this new update for Google Adwords, the search engine says most queries will yield between 0-3 ads on the top of SERPs.

Google says in some cases 4 ads may appear on top, but only for what the search engine calls “highly commercial” queries—that is, queries that indicate the user is shopping for an item or looking to make a purchase.

What the AdWords Shake-Up Means for Organic Search Results

The AdWords Shake-Up Update doesn’t just affect webmasters who pay Google for search ads, though. It affects all of us. 

Is SEO Dead?

Putting more ads on the top of SERPs pushes organic search results further down the page.

Does it mean SEO is dead, though? Google says no. In fact, the search giant claims the change makes white-hat SEO strategies that much more important.

These are the only kinds of optimization techniques that will stand up to Google’s near-constant search updates and algorithm changes. 

What’s Next for Paid Search Ads?

As predictable as Google hopes to be for users, its next steps are not as foreseeable to webmasters and marketers. As of this writing, Google’s ad revenue has started to slow. 

This may be an indication that some its paid search ad clients are no longer willing to pay to play, so to speak.

It’s difficult to say how the paid ad landscape will change in the next year, but be sure to check for Google updates here and stay on top of the latest SEO and PPC trends.