Google updated look of search results makes ads less obvious


TS Addict
Staff member

You may not have noticed, but Google has been busy updating the look of search results, first on mobile devices and recently started rolling out those changes to desktop users as well.

Update (1/23): Following a small yet justified backlash Google has backtracked, promising to 'experiment' with search results' look following the negative reaction from users. They have removed the tiny favicons and said they plan to tweak the formula before it hits desktop clients again.

The company has added tiny "favicons" into its search results and rearranged blue text links in a way that makes it easier to blend together ads and organic search results. Of course, that also makes it more likely for a user to click on an ad, as evident from studies made by Varn and SearchEngineLand. This has invited some criticism, with people speculating that this is simply a clever tactic to avoid being hit with another fine by the EU for "abusive" online advertising practices.

To be fair, Google does mark paid search results with an "Ad" favicon, but that doesn't mean users looking for relevant results will always be able to tell the difference at a glance. Studies made over the last eight years by Pew Internet and university researchers show that as many as 40 to 60 percent of users are "unaware of or unable to distinguish ads from organic search results."

The company announced the subtle changes via a tweet earlier this month, and explained the new format "puts a site's brand front and center," while giving users an easy way to scan search results cards and decide if they want to explore any further.

Critics point out to a 2016 tweet that shows the progression of Google ad labelling changes over the years, starting with shaded backgrounds and ending with the green "Ad" label in the header of search results. This has resulted in a cleaner, flattened look that doesn't have distracting elements, which looks very good on mobile. On the desktop, however, the favicons are relatively small and easy to ignore when sifting through the search results.

Understandably, these changes won't bode well with everyone, but advertising is Google's core revenue stream, so it's trying to strike a visual balance between organic and paid search results.

The company has also been working on prioritizing original content and diversity in search results, both of which are welcomed changes.

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TS Evangelist
From my recent experience with gagme, how is every gagme search result not an ad?

Click on any search result in gagme these days, and it goes through gagme to get to the destination site. Maybe that is me because I deny gagme the ability to set cookies.

Unusual Kmc

TS Booster
What was funny was when you would type in a company such as "Amazon", intending to go and shop there, and google throws a bunch of Amazon ads at you so basically Amazon pays google to provide a link to something that you were already trying to go to.


TS Maniac
I have noticed that I hate google search results lately. it's a horrible change, everything looks like an ad now, It's time to test other search engines.


TS Addict
I hate this. One day, recently, I realized I couldn't tell regular links from Ad links. That's deceptive, IMO.