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Deceptively Blended Adwords on Google Search Results

 9:38 pm on Apr 28, 2008 (gmt 0)

On a recent Google search, I noticed that Google has removed the usual yellow background on the AdWords Sponsored Links. The background of the ads are now white on every search I do (tested in different browsers & IPs).

The new ads blend very easily into the rest of the organic SERPs. It even took me a second glance to realize which results were ads and which were real results.

Is this new behavior? Or is Google just testing stuff?

[edited by: tedster at 9:54 pm (utc) on April 28, 2008]



 9:56 pm on Apr 28, 2008 (gmt 0)

I am seeing a much paler background color than the previous execution. The background color I see now #FFF9DD which is very close to a pure #FFFFFF and on many screeens would be identical.


 3:00 am on Apr 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

Just great.

It took me over 6 months to finally train my parents to ignore the first few "yellow results" and look at the "real results" below. Well, Google has trumped my efforts.

It looks like the Big G will do anything to increase their bottom line, even if it means removing the boundary separating sponsored results from organic results.

I thought it was only Yahoo that compromised the integrity of their results by mixing sponsored and organic results. Pretty soon, we might be adding Google to the same list.

Definitely NOT a good sign of things to come.


 3:23 am on Apr 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

I feel the same. I noticed this change a little while ago, and checked to see if I had somehow reset the color depth on my system.

#FFF9DD is just a cop-out. If Google is going to blur the line between paid ads and organic results, they should just go all the way and use #FFFFFF for the whole page. Somehow, this near-match sends an even worse message, to my sensibilities.

I hope we see this bad decision revert in the very near future.


 3:38 am on Apr 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

It creates a nasty mixed message when compared with the expectations they have for other publishers making it very clear that google ads are ads by not blending them into site content. I would be tempted to use the word hypocrytical.


 12:45 am on Apr 30, 2008 (gmt 0)

First 10 results will be ads (OR websites that participate in Adwords program and spend a minimum of $X per month), all others will be organic results mixed with ads. I can see something like that implemented by 2009.

However not Google, but Yahoo may be the "pioneer" here; their sponsored ads colors seem even worse + the yellowish highlight when you go over both the organic and sponsored results makes it even more confusing. On the other hand, currently their "SPONSORED RESULTS" text is much more visible than on Google.


 2:51 am on Apr 30, 2008 (gmt 0)

I understand the dissent but disagree. No color background needed. No deception involved. It is standard practice in advertising to put the ad notice at the top preceding the ad. Google always did that and still does that.

The AdWords deception isn't in Search Pages; it's in the Content Network where the "Ads by Google" notice is below the ad (and to the right). Most of the AdWords ads are like that. And Google wonders why so many advertisers abandoned the Content Network.



 3:17 am on Apr 30, 2008 (gmt 0)

On a wide screen - even just 1200px which isn't all that wide today - the "Sponsored Links" label for any Adwords that are promoted to top placement is way over to the right, and it is not clear what that text is intended to label. The gray label is actually closer to the normal Adwords listed on the right rather than the banner position Adwords.

It's probably easier to understand with Jaws than on a visual browser! I still feel that clear labeling requires redundant visual cues, and both the cues, background color and text label, have become ambiguous.


 3:24 am on Apr 30, 2008 (gmt 0)

Maybe it would make sense to establish an internationally-recognizable ad-background color that would always indicate an ad (like red/yellow/green on traffic lights is known worldwide").


 3:36 am on Apr 30, 2008 (gmt 0)

I just get the sneaking (perhaps incorrect) feeling that google is a lot keener for web publishers to make it clear that an ad is an ad than perhaps they are to do the same thing themselves.


 2:41 pm on May 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

It doesn't make any sense to me. I thought Google was trying to decrease the number of low-quality clicks on ads -- not increase them.

This move seems to indicate that Google wants more people to click AdWords ads, even if the clicks were obtained through somewhat deceptive means. With a white background, many more people will click the ad without knowing that it is an ad. Is it just me, or is this bad for advertisers?

I hope this is not a permanent change.


 5:00 pm on May 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

First 10 results will be ads (OR websites that participate in Adwords program and spend a minimum of $X per month), all others will be organic results mixed with ads. I can see something like that implemented by 2009.

I'd be surprised if that happened. Google will only remain the market leader while the perception is that their search results are better than the competition's. Selling them out (and Yahoo are already out selling Top 6 SERPS slots incidentally) would be a dangerous strategy and I'm sure they are fully aware of that. Unless they feel that their product range is now so vast and inherantly embedded that they can survive such a change.

The colour they have chosen suggests to me they are "trialling" the blur between paid and unpaid to see what the effects are.

[edited by: Simsi at 5:04 pm (utc) on May 1, 2008]

Receptional Andy

 5:12 pm on May 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

Anyone remember the FTC's guidelines [ftc.gov] on this, from way back in 2000, and the subsequent judgement on search engine ads [ftc.gov]?

A Consumers Union national survey found that 60% of U.S. Internet users had not heard or read that certain search engines were paid fees to list some sites more prominently than others in their search results. After being told that some search engines take these fees, 80% said it is important (including 44% who said it is very important) for a search engine to disclose, in its search results or in an easy-to-find page on its site, that it is being paid to list certain sites more prominently.

I suppose if the distinction is once again being blurred the suggestion would be that searchers are either better able to identify subtle disclosure, or alternatively no longer care. Frankly, I'm not convinced of either.


 9:35 pm on May 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

A guy on another blog, though, is saying the background color was already #FFF9DD as of the April 2007 blue-to-yellow change, based on a screen capture he'd done at the time.



 11:31 pm on May 1, 2008 (gmt 0)

3 little letters: FTC

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