Has anyone else noticed how Google Ads are looking more and more like organic results in Google? Since I started to write this article at least the people at Screamingfrog have also noticed the blurring of the line. It makes sense that AdWords click through rates can quickly be increased if users can no longer tell what the first organic result is.
I noticed something was up while comparing click through rate (CTR) data on an organic branded term between January 2012 with the same term in January 2011. While the company had grown the number of branded organic visits were approximately the same – they should have been much higher. I checked AdWords and sure enough AdWords branded visits were up by 300%. I had been fearing this might happen for a while – did the evil Google finally outgrow the “do no evil” Google?
There was a time when it was clear what results were ads and which ones were organic but that distinction has almost vanished. Let´s face it, it makes sense, an easy way to increase revenue for the AdWords team is to simply make it difficult for people to know they are clicking on an ad.
Ad blindness is something any advertiser, ad network or publisher fears. What is the best way to get people clicking on ads? Simple. Make them think they are not clicking on an ad.
Many people have no idea that the top results are ads
In an SEO meeting last year I was explaining to a manager what organic results were and why we needed to improve them for a particular product. When I pointed to the organic results on the screen just below the three AdWords results he said “It´s pointless to be there when everyone clicks here” (he was pointing to the top AdWords results).
What was more painful than his ignorance was my ignorance of the truth in his statement. For this particular product, the vast majority of clicks happened in the paid results. The demographic was senior citizens and most of them did not know what a search engine was, what browser they were using, what an operating system is and most certainly they did not know that they were clicking on ads. And this was before the latest changes that make it even harder to tell the difference. It sometimes amazes me how many young people I speak with who do not know that the top results are ads as well. I think most people have a feeling that those results aren´t particularly relevant buy they don´t know that companies and individuals bid for those positions and pay money when they click on them.
You know it´s bad when even the pros struggle to tell the difference
A few nights ago I was searching for something and I had to check twice before clicking, I caught myself unsure of whether I was clicking on a paid result or not. If I can´t tell the difference there is definitely an issue. If you have an LCD monitor and the brightness and contrast has been turned up it´s very difficult to see the background.
Here is a list of the differences I have been able to find. Leave me a message if you know of any more:
- Background colour has become much more faint (closer to white)
- The ad text lines have moved below the Title similar to the description snipper in organic results
- Sitelinks are very similar in both AdWords and organic listings
- Numbers on the organic listings have gone
- “Sponsored Links” has been changed to “Ads – Why these ads?” – More vague?
- “Ads – Why these ads?” has been moved slightly higher (out of the way?)
- Company name has been appended to the title using a pipe ( | ) of the ad making it look similar to many organic listings which use this
While Google is busy dropping sites with too many above the fold ads they are not only expanding the above the fold space taken up by ads but also blending their ads to make them look like organic listings. Nice.