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VARN Original Research: 55% Of People Don’t Know Which Are Paid Ads On Google

Following our widely shared blog in February featuring our original research on how many people recognise ads on Google, these ads have changed further in appearance since then and so we decided to run the same survey again, to see if the results would be different.

55% Of People Don’t Know Which Are Paid Ads On Google

Following our widely shared blog in February featuring our original research on how many people recognise ads on Google, these ads have changed further in appearance since then and so we decided to run the same survey again, to see if the results would be different.

55% of people are now unable to tell which of the search results are paid adverts, which is 5% more than in our original survey.

When you submit search terms Google provides you with a page of results, and for commercial queries some of these results are usually paid adverts. These are very similar in appearance to the ‘organic’ (non-paid) search results, but they have been put there by Google from businesses paying to occupy this space via Google AdWords campaigns. They are marked with the tell-tale ‘Ad’ icon, but how many of us actually realise that these are adverts and not organically found results?

Since the start of the year there have been several changes to the way that Google displays ads, so we wanted to revisit this survey question to see if Google’s changes had impacted public understanding of paid search results. Similarly to the survey conducted in February 2016, the second survey conducted in July 2016 comprised of 1,017 respondents, who were men and women living in the UK. Back in February 2016 the adverts which sat on the right hand side of Google search results pages – separately to the main search results – were removed, and for more commercial keywords a new fourth ad appeared in the top search results. The survey that we carried out at the time found that 50.6% of people didn’t know which of the search results were paid adverts. This has now increased to 55% in our latest survey.

google search results

Could this be because now that the side ads have gone, the search results blend together more making it harder to spot the paid results at the top of the page?

This confusion over which search results are in fact paid ads could also be due to more recent changes Google has made. From June 2016 the colour of the ‘Ads’ icon which indicated a paid ad within the Google search results was changed from yellow to green, making it blend in more as the colour of the link text is also green. Interestingly, now even fewer people know which search results are ads, with a 4% increase in those who answered ‘no’ to the survey question. This means many of us will be unwittingly clicking on adverts instead of the organic search results that are most relevant to our search query.

55% Of People Don’t Know Which Are Paid Ads On Google

It is arguably more interesting that the number of people who answered ‘Yes and I DO click them’ has decreased by over a third, from 13.3% to 8.4%. This means that of the users who do recognise ads within Google search results, 80% of them deliberately avoid clicking them. This would imply that Google has to rely on the users who don’t realise they are Ads, which perhaps is one of the motivations in blending them more with the organic results.

The introduction of an additional fourth advert for ‘highly commercial queries’ has further affected the search engine results page, as this increase in the number of paid results showing at the top of the search results means that organic results are pushed down the screen, often even below the fold.  Users will therefore have to scroll down to see any organic results, but how likely is this when more than half of us don’t even realise they are adverts?

There is a fine line here as ultimately Google is a business seeking to generate profit, but hopefully as the world’s most popular search engine they will keep user experience as a priority.

If you want to know more about paid search ads and how you could be benefiting from a Google AdWords campaign, please do contact the team at Varn.