Google has built an empire on the tiny text ads that people pay them to run in their search results. Their AdWords system has evolved into a highly refined tool for businesses to increase traffic to their websites in order to sell more of their products and services. But the ads are displayed adjacent to organic search results and it can be difficult to distinguish the two. Add to that the fact that Google has been progressively squeezing out organic search results from search engine results pages (SERP) to display more ads, and you end up with a space where people assume they are getting an objective result for their search query but are instead seeing an array of paid placements. You canâ€™t really begrudge them for making money with their product but the distinction between paid ads and organic search results could use some clarification and a recent change to AdWords appears to be addressing the issue.
Google has traditionally designated paid ads in the SERPs with a note at the top of the group of ads and has also put the above the fold portion in a box with a different colored background. Now we are seeing sporadic implementation of a new display. This new version lists the ads in the same way as organic results but has a bright yellow badge to the left with the word “ad” in it. It is quite obvious and much more upfront. It hasn’t been implemented across the board. I continue to see it on some desktop computers but it is consistently displayed in the new format on mobile devices. I suspect mobile was fueling the change. On mobile devices the only thing you see on your screen when it loads results are the paid ads so making the box containing them a different color doesnâ€™t really make a clear designation. Since your entire viewport may be paid ads you may never even see an organic results unless you scroll down. The new designation makes it patently clear that the results you are seeing are paid ads.
You can see examples of the new and old displays below.
The change is a definite improvement for clarity but I think they still have a long way to go in other areas. They were recently called out by Consumer Watchdog for deceptive Google Shopping results. It’s a compelling complaint and one I think that will continue to pressure the search giant to clarify what parts of their search results are ads. In the meantime this is a step in the right direction.