Over the years, Google has made it harder to distinguish ads from organic search results at a glance. In the current iteration, when users search, the only difference between the two is “Ad” written in bold, and it’s easy to miss.
The search giant is making a small change today, replacing the “Ad” label next to the ads that appear in search results with a bold “Sponsored” sign. The company also moves the label above the website URL to a separate line instead of displaying it next to the URL.
Google is currently rolling out this update slowly on mobile devices and said it will begin testing these changes on desktop, without specifying a date.
“This new label and its prominent placement continue to meet high standards for distinction from search results and build on existing efforts to make paid content clear,” Google said in a statement.
However, these changes may still not be enough for users to clearly distinguish between ads and organic search results. If you’re reading this story and looking at the changes together, you’ll notice the difference between “Advertisement” and “Sponsored.” But when you’re scrolling through thousands of search results every day, you may not keep these changes in mind.
Ginny Marvin, Google Ads Product Liaison, has tweeted a visual history of the company’s ad branding many times over the years. Although the tweet below only captures the changes up to 2019, it’s easy to see how Google has slowly blurred the lines between ads and search results.
When 2020 Google released a new bold “Ad” label, many people noticed the dark patterns in this design change which made users squint to distinguish paid content. But it took the company two years to make any changes.
Advertising business is the main source of money for Google: 2022 in the second quarter, the company earned 56.3 billion. USD in ad revenue. So it is important that the search giant continues to monetize this channel in various ways. Given Google’s position in the ad space, many watchdogs are looking to examine the company’s ad business through an antitrust lens.
Including site names
Along with changing ad labels, Google will also display site names in search results. Until now, you could only see URLs in search results, which made it confusing to identify some sites. It also makes website favicons more prominent so users can easily recognize familiar website logos. The company said these changes will also apply to ads to increase transparency for users.
Update October 14 at 8 p.m. IST: After the story was published, a Google spokesperson sent a message emphasizing that the design of the ad had been changed after more than a year of user testing.
“Changes to search ad appearance and ad labeling are the result of rigorous user testing across many different aspects and methods, including user awareness and response, advertiser quality and performance, and overall search impact.” We’ve been running these tests for over a year to ensure that users can identify the source of their search ads and where they’re coming from, and that paid content is clearly marked and separated from search results as Google Search continues to evolve. “, the statement said.