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VARN Original Research: You Won’t Believe How Many People Don’t Recognise Paid Ads in Google.

Our latest survey results show that paid Ads in Google search results are harder to spot than ever before, with almost 60% of us unable to distinguish between the organic search results provided by Google and the paid Ads presented alongside them.

Google AdWords survey

The fourth in a range of original surveys, the survey was based on independent research first carried out in February 2016, when we were surprised to find that 50% of the 1,010 UK based respondents surveyed could not tell the difference between paid Ads and the naturally selected best-match organic results shown by Google. The survey results were widely shared in SEO press, amid predictions of how expected changes to Google search results could further impact the ability of users to recognise Ads in the future.

Since the original survey was carried out, Google has made several rounds of changes to the way that adverts are presented in search results. We ran the same survey again to find out what impact these changes would have on users’ awareness of the adverts and found that as the Ads have started to blend in more with the organic search results, the number of people who are unable to recognise them has increased by 16.4% over 18 months.

Google Ads examples

Looking at the last few incarnations of Google AdWords, we can explore how these updates have coincided with changes to our survey results.

When our original survey found a 50/50 split between those who recognised Ads in Google and those who couldn’t, Google Ads looked like this:

Google AdWords yellow label

The bright yellow ‘Ad’ label made the paid search results stand out from the other results, and there were also still Ads featured on the right hand side of the search results page. A few months after our first survey, the Ads were removed from the side of the page and the ‘Ad’ label coloured changed to green, which made it blend into the page as it was the same colour as the URL text that it sat next to in each search result.

Google AdWords green label

This was a significant step in seemingly making Ads harder to differentiate for users. Google also increased the number of AdWords results from three to four which pushed organic results down the screen and in some cases, even below the fold. After all of these changes had been made, it was hardly surprising when we embarked on a new survey with the same question, and found that the number of respondents who answered ‘no’ when asked ‘Do you know which links on a Google search results page are paid adverts?’ increased to 57.6%, and as much as 61.8% for users aged 55-64 when the results were broken down into age groups.

The start of 2017 saw further changes to the paid search results, when the green ‘Ad’ label changed from a solid green box with ‘Ad’ appearing in white text, to a white box outlined in green and containing green text, making it even less noticeable:

Google AdWords white label

This latest update to Google search results has arguably made Ads harder than ever to spot, which is evidenced in the results of the survey we ran in July 2017. We asked 1,005 people in the UK ‘Do you know which links on the Google search results page are paid adverts?’, and 58.9% of them answered ‘no’. This percentage increases further when we split the results out based on age- 65% of those aged 55-64, and 67.8% aged 65 and over said ‘no’.

Survey results by age

So what does this mean for companies running paid search campaigns?

These results could be good news for paid search marketers, as it suggests that as many as 66% of people are potentially clicking on Ads within Google search results, with the majority of them not knowing that they are paid for. As Ads become ever harder to distinguish from organic search results and awarded more space within search results pages (SERPs), it has never been more important for business owners to at the very least review whether they should invest in AdWords campaigns. As more companies catch on and implement their own paid search campaigns, it is no longer sufficient to just run paid adverts for your most popular products or services and hope for the best.

The key to a successful AdWords campaign is having the right strategy in place, and this means carrying out keyword research, optimising ads, maximising ROI and constantly testing and evaluating the success of your campaigns to see where you should be investing. In the case of a number of our clients, AdWords has gone from an afterthought – something they spent a few hundred pounds on each month just because they thought they should – to one of the main drivers of traffic to their website and a large source of their generated revenue. With our help they have been able to drive campaigns forward and create a sustainable source of new custom, where they see real return on investment every single month.

If you want to find out more information about how to make your AdWords campaigns more profitable, contact our team of paid search experts today.