Insights

9th February 2021

“To Click Or Not To Click”? That is the question

VARN Research Findings:

Most searchers (59.1%) still do not recognise it’s a Google Ad they are looking at.


Our recent survey is the latest in a series of research conducted by Varn over the last 5 years which measures the degree to which people can recognise the ads within Google Search results. 

Google Ads research results

Our research has highlighted that there appears to be a real need to help people identify and recognise a Google Ad, so that they can make better-informed decisions when they ask themselves the question of whether to click, or not to click on them. 

We asked 1001 people the question:

“Do you know which links on the Google search results page are paid adverts?”

So what did we find out?

Our question “Do you know which links on the Google search results page are paid adverts?” unveiled some insightful results:

  • 59.15% did not recognise Adverts in the search pages
  • 35.11% did recognise the Ads, but did not click on them
  • Only 5.74% recognised them as Ads and then clicked on them. 

Can you spot the subtle difference below, between the Google Ad compared to a Google search result?

Spot the difference

Can you spot the subtle difference below, between the Google Ad compared to a Google search result?

Google Ad compared to Google Search Result

Since we conducted our first survey in 2016, the amount of people who are unable to identify adverts on Google hasn’t really changed, (for example last year it was 57.4%). However, it does appear that those people who do recognise that it is a Google Ad, are now clicking on those Ads much less than they did before with 5.74% in 2021 vs 13.3% in 2016.

Our research is suggesting that Google Ads are possibly becoming less noticeable in the search engine results pages (SERPs)

Is this really the case? 

Have a look at the changes in Google search ads since 2013 below. As you can see, the format and styling change frequently and it could be suggested that the graphic signposting of the ad has become much more subtle over time and more in line with a standard organic listing.

Google Ad formats

Here is a summary of the results over the last 5 years:

“Do you know which links on the Google search results page are paid adverts?”

Year201620172018201920202021
No50.6%57.6%57.5% 59.3%58.1%59.1%
Yes but I don’t click on them36.2%33.1%34.8%35.2%34.3%35.1%
Yes and I do click on them13.3%9.4% 7.7%5.5%7.6%5.7%

As you can see roughly the same number of people do not recognise the ads in 2021 as they did in 2017, which coincides with when Ad labelling really started it’s transformation to look more like regular Google listings.

One of our most significant findings is that people who do recognise they are looking at an Ad, are actually now clicking on them less. The latest research shows that users who clicked on ads has fallen from 13.3% in 2016 to 5.7% in 2021. 

So as to the question of “to click or not to click?”….as a search page user, it appears we really do want to know if it’s an Ad we are looking at, as this does effect whether we may choose to click it or not.


Is the ability to recognise Google Ads influenced by how old you are?

Answer: Not really! The highest proportion of those who responded no to the research questions fell into the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups but this could be due to the larger number of younger people who make up the total internet-using population. 

Do you know which links on the Google search results page are paid adverts?

Age Range18-2425-3435-3445-5455-6465+
No 9.1%11.84%10.36%10.2%8.9%7.93%
Yes, but I don’t click on them5.92%6.69%6.54%7.31%4.47%4.18%
Yes and I do click on them0.49%1.16%1.48%1.46%0.64%0.51%

Results in the context of Google Surfaces

The changes in ad formats and styling have not been exclusive to standard search results pages. In late 2020, Google also introduced ‘Google Surfaces’ as an augmentation of the Google Shopping results pages. 

The change means that listings that would normally have been taken by Ads, are now pulled through organically, with Ads still being used at the top of the results pages. This reflects the increased integration between ads and organic listings and why we are still seeing such a high number of people unable to recognise that they are looking at an Ad in their search results.

Google wants to help users to provide them with relevant and useful information, which is why SEO is so important for your website to ensure you rank highly for organic listings. 

Conclusion

Our latest research does show that there appears to be a real need to help people identify Ads, so they can make a better-informed decision about whether to click or not to click….


Get in touch

For further information or if you have any questions on our research results, or how your business can stand out in a search, please get in touch with a member of our expert team

Article by: Tom, Managing Director of Varn Digital Marketing More articles by Tom

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