What Google Ads?


In 2005, the then Vice President of Search Product and User Experience Marissa Mayer stated: “There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages. There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.”

How prescient she was. Google has opted for the complete opposite of ‘crazy, flashy, graphical doodads’; PPC ads that look curiously like organic search results.

But first, let’s take a trip back to Google’s early days of search advertising in 2001:

Google in 2001 (Source: Econsultancy)

Times were simpler then. Ads looked like ads. It was difficult to avoid the lurid swathes of pink and green leaping out of the screen.

If we skip back to the present, Google ads seem to suffer some sort of postmodern identity crisis (am I a search result? or am I an ad?). The only factor distinguishing between ads and search results is the yellow ‘Ad’ icon, a feature Dr Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz, believes is due to EU settlement, rather than by choice.

Google today

Are we getting better User Experience?

There is, of course, the argument that by blending ads into normal search results, users get a cleaner, more aesthetically pleasing, experience. And it’s fair to say that Google has done a good job of stripping out unnecessary colour and detail to its website.

Is Google preying on consumer misinformation or sheer ignorance?

However sometimes, there is more to a product than simply maximising user experience. Research carried out by UK-based UX consultancy Bunnyfoot in 2013 revealed two interesting nuggets of insight:

  1. In a research project with an insurance client, 81% of users clicked on Google Adwords listings rather than natural search results.
  2. 41% of the users surveyed did not even know that Google adwords were paid-for adverts.

…and this was when the ads at the top of the page were placed in a shaded box (see below).

Google in 2013 (Source: Econsultancy)

To some extent it is sheer unavoidable ignorance on the part of the consumer for not know what is organic and what is paid. But at the same time, Google is doing its best to legally mislead consumers into clicking on ads.

With advertising contributing to the majority of Google’s revenues, it’s no surprise that Google will want to tweak its interface as much as possible to encourage clicks.

But ultimately, it isn’t the end web user that suffers. After all, we just want to get to the right page in the quickest time. But it might not be so rosy for the advertisers though, who are unnecessarily paying for clicks that could (and should) otherwise have been found organically.

Disclaimer: The author of this article owns Google shares (although this disclaimer would perhaps be more appropriate if the author was extolling Google’s virtues [of which they are also many]).

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