​Google’s Controversial Experiment Blurs the Boundaries Between Organic and Paid Search


2017 is turning into a huge year for changes in online search marketing. As of 20th February 2017, Google have continued in their seemingly never ending tinkering with their boldest leap yet into blurring the lines between paid and organic search.

Before June 2016, all Google paid adverts were displayed with a clear yellow box indicating ‘Ad’. An example of this is indicated below.

yellowbox ads.jpg

Despite this rather clear indication of the first results of a search being an ad, a remarkable 55% of users still couldn’t differentiate between a natural search result and a paid ad at the time of using the yellow ‘Ad’ box. Good news for Google you may think with a large percentage of searches generating revenue but it would appear that was not good enough and further changes have come.

Up until last week, this following screenshot is the latest display screen we have become accustomed to. With the ‘Ad’ box changing from yellow to green, this was seen as a move to increase the level of clicks generated through ads.

Feedback was mixed, and as expected it was those with the huge budgets and a vested interest in PPC over organic who championed the changes. Anything which makes an ad harder to recognise, makes the PPC area more lucrative ahead of organic. For the big boys, things have just got even better.

As of this morning (20th Feb 2017), Google are testing an even harder to spot ad. So much so that when I conducted my first Google search this morning, my initial through was ‘Where have the ad’s gone?

For those who haven’t seen it yet or aren't in the control pool, this is the new display.

As you can see, the ads have now been displayed in a green outlined box matching the colour of the URL, clearly their hardest to spot ad in their history. With no official announcement yet in regards to the motivation behind the change, it will be clear to those with a background in CRO, this is a clear effort to further blur the lines between organic search and paid advertising to drive up revenue through PPC.

With the long term future of text search being complicated with the addition of new voice based products such as Alexa, Google’s decision to test what some may view an an intentionally misleading UX smacks of desperation to uphold their behemothic revenue streams.

Chris Ogle

Business Development Manager

Chris Ogle is a Business Development Manager for Flow in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

To speak with him about your campaign, email chris.ogle@flow.co.uk or call on 0191 640 2700