Latest Varn Google Ads Research 2022 | Varn


24 March 2022

Latest Varn Google Ads Research 2022

Read our Latest Sept 22 Google Ads research here

81.3% of people that recognise an Advert in a search, refuse to click them.
Most people (64.7%) do not recognise a Google Ad in their search results; but be warned as 81.3% of the people that do know it’s an Advert they are looking at in their search results…don’t click on them.

That’s a lot of people that are potentially ignoring you and your business in a search.

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

In 2020, Google’s ad revenue amounted to $146.92 billion which is a staggering 81% of Google’s total revenue so, perhaps unsurprisingly, advertising and paid search is hugely, hugely important to Google. This got the team at Varn thinking about what that means for how Google are presenting Adverts to the searcher. Well, from Google’s perspective they state that:

“Google’s first responsibility is to provide Search users with the most relevant possible results. If businesses were able to pay for higher rankings in the search results, users wouldn’t be getting the information they’re looking for.”

So we were curious…

We often work with our clients to hypothesise and evaluate the holistic click through rates with and without the presence of a paid ads in the SERPs. Where possible we review the revenue per click generated by each channel in the context of search competition to identify the best search strategy. We are often reviewing data about click through rates on Adverts vs Organic listings, and we have always wondered who actually recognises a Google Ad when they search and what do they do then?

So for the last 6 years, every six months, we have asked over 1000 people across all age groups to fill in our online survey in the UK and asked the question:

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

Our research has highlighted that the majority of searchers (64.7%) still do not realise it is an Advert that is appearing at the top of their Google search results and in their SERPs. 

This is good news for advertisers, as this chunk won’t be dissuaded by any anti-advertising backlash before clicking on your website. However, it does pose the question that if 64.7% don’t realise they are looking at an Advert, then of the 35.3% that do recognise an Advert, what are these people doing when they notice the Ad in their SERPs?

Well based on our latest findings, 28.7% of people do recognise it’s an Ad they are looking at, but will then refuse to click on it.  Only 6.6% of those recognise an Ad, actually still go on to click the Ad.

This means that 81.3% of people that recognise Adverts…don’t click on them!

Are people ignoring you in a search?

There is a big chunk of your potential market ignoring you. It is estimated that there are 3.5 billion searches per day in the UK alone so if we assume we know from our results that this means 35.3% of those searches, (1.24 billion) will know that there are Ads in their search results, out of those 1.24 billion searches, almost 1.01 billion of those searches could be actively choosing not to click on your Ad!

That’s a lot of people searching and making a conscious choice to ignore your Advert, precisely because it is an Ad.

Given we know these searchers  will knowingly refuse to even look at your paid Ad, this means your business will need to try and engage with these people in other ‘search’ ways and not just through a paid media strategy alone.

What’s happened over time?

Since 2013, Google has changed it’s adverts over time to be less obvious and you can see in the graphic below how Google search Ads have evolved. The format and styling change frequently and it could be suggested that the graphic signposting of Adverts has become much more subtle over time and more in line with a standard organic listing.


When we look at our Varn research over the last 6 years, the ability to recognise an Advert hasn’t massively changed, even though theoretically people are getting wiser to how search engines work. It has remained between about 57% and 64.7% since 2017 and you can see how this may be influenced by the design of the Google Ad labelling which has since transformed to look more like regular Google listings.

Spot the difference….

It is not surprising that the majority (60%) of people  still don’t recognise Ads, as if you line up a paid Advert and an organic search result and see how they actually look to a searcher, you can see there is not much difference at all:

Google Ad compared to Google Search Result

It is also worth noting that Ads can often take up most of the page of a search result, and with the subtle design cues used to indicate the Advert status, you can see why people may not understand they are looking at just Ads rather than organic search results. For example, if you search ‘SEO agency Bristol’ you will see that the paid Ads take up your whole screen when you initially search…you have to actively scroll down to get to the first organic search results.

Given that 75% of people don’t scroll past page 1, those Adverts can really take up people’s attention and clicks!

Graphical user interface, application

Description automatically generated

However if  we compare that, to back in 2009, these were the sorts of results you would see with ‘Sponsored links’ clearly labelled. 

Graphical user interface, text, application, email

Description automatically generated

So what does this all mean for your business and your Search Strategy?

At Varn we have come to the conclusion that in order to make sure your website is visible to the biggest search audience possible, it is vital to make sure you have a search marketing strategy that embraces both SEO (organic search results) and PPC (paid search advertising).

We know from our research that a big proportion of the search market will not even recognise an Ad, and we can see from the examples of how Advert styling has evolved over time, why that has remained high. 

However, we also know that there is a large proportion of your target market who know an Ad when they see one and decide not to click. So if you are not doing both SEO and PPC in the most optimal way possible, you are missing out on many potential clients. Data suggests that approximately 53% of all website traffic comes from organic search and 27% from paid, it really is a sensible idea to not put all your eggs in one search basket.  This all means you probably need a hybrid model.

Source of stats:

What does Google recommend….?

“Using SEO and Google Ads together may give you the best chance of bringing traffic to your site in the short term, and enhancing your business’s presence online for long-term success.”

There are benefits of using both organic search and paid search as you can see below:

Benefits Organic SearchBenefits of Paid Search
Organic search drives 53% of website traffic, while paid search drives 27%.

B2B and technology companies generate twice as much revenue from organic search than any other channel

Roughly 25.8% of internet users use ad blockers

11% of search ad clicks are fraudulent or invalid

74% of brands say that PPC ads are a huge driver for their business.

SEO is a longer term tactic, it’s rare to see organic traffic increases within the first 3 months of optimisation.

Out of people who click search ads, 75% say the ads make it easier to find what they’re looking for.

93% of marketers are investing in search ads & 66% of CMOs expected to increase spend their on paid search last year (2021).

Source of stats:

Therefore neither organic nor paid search is inherently superior to each other. While Paid ads does have a cost, you should be trying and testing both paid search and SEO, (with organic search optimisation, you’ll have to test for at least six months). By testing, reiterating and learning from both PPC and SEO, you can see what works for you and your business, short and long term, ensuring you capture all the possible clicks out there.

Put simply, the best way to reach your largest target audience and drive rankings and clicks, is to do both SEO and PPC…..and do them both very well. 

We are unashamed experts in search marketing and SEO. We love working alongside our clients in order to help create strategies that will deliver ROI in both organic search and paid search efforts, so do get in touch if you need help to make sure you are not being ignored online, we’d love to hear from you.

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

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