Google recently made a change to how it displays (and differentiates) ads from organic results in search. With this change, ads become slightly more indistinguishable from other results, which has some people up in arms. But I submit a question: does it really matter if it still takes you where you need to go?
Oh man, I saw the look on your face just now. “Did this dude really just say that? How dare he suggest that clicking an ad is okay!” —I get it. There’s this huge black cloud hanging over ads and to suggest that clicking on this heretic of the online world is downright blasphemous. But here we are.
So, hear me out. Google does a pretty good job of making the ads relevant to your actual search. For example, if you search for, say, Sweetwater, you’ll get an ad for Sweetwater that takes you to its homepage, as well as an organic link that…takes you to its homepage. These two links literally go to the same place. The difference is that Google gets paid when you click one and doesn’t for the other.
The way I see it, Google provides a lot of excellent services that we don’t have to pay for. Search, Gmail, YouTube, Maps…I could keep going, but you get the point. It offers all this to us without cost by way of ad revenue. You see or click on ads in these services, and as a result, you pay nothing.
I get that it’s unpopular to think that ads aren’t awful, but the truth is that we get a lot of useful services, websites, and more because of ads. And this isn’t even a new thing—radio has been using this exact format for decades. The difference is that you don’t get to choose whether or not you hear the ad (well, I guess you could turn the radio off).
Cable television works the same way and you still have to pay for it. You pay Dish, DirecTV, Comcast, or whoever you use for your TV service, but you still have to sit through ads—you know, commercials—in addition to how much you pay for the service. At least with Google search, it’s just a simple link. Not something you have to watch, listen to, or otherwise waste time on. You’re going to click the link anyway, and as long as the ad-supported link takes you to where you want to go, does it really matter?
No, it doesn’t. And this is what keeps Google and the services you use every day going.
You know what I think this kerfuffle is all about? I think users don’t like feeling duped—and rightfully so! No one wants to feel like they’ve been taken advantage of, especially when it comes to something as personal as search results. You’re looking for this one thing in particular and getting the proper result is important. Searching for a specific topic is almost an intimate experience—it’s just something between you and Google, and you’re trusting them to provide an honest, trustworthy result.
Throwing an ad in the mix—especially if it’s not clear to you that it’s an ad in the first place—feels dirty. And that’s really what this is about. Google used to do a better job of separating ads from organic results by highlighting them in a different color. But over time, this practice has gone away and little by little, ads have started to blend in more and more with other results.
Color fade: A history of Google ad labeling in search results https://t.co/guo3jc4kwz pic.twitter.com/LMYqhmgfyE
— Ginny Marvin (@GinnyMarvin) July 25, 2016
Still, these ads are clearly marked—you just have to look for them. To the left of the URL in the result, there’s a little icon that reads “Ad.” The organic results? Those get favicons from the site they link to. (See the image with the Sweetwater results for an example.) It’s almost like ads are labeled as ads so you know which ones are ads.
Of course, if you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to quickly click the ad without realizing you did so, which leads to feelings of dishonesty and misdirection when you do realize it. But as I stated early on in this post: as long as it gets you to where you need to go, it doesn’t really matter.
There’s also an upside to this change: ads don’t always show up at the top of the search results now. Previously, if a search was going to have an ad, it was always at the top of the results. Now, however, that’s not always the case—we’ve seen several instances where the ads didn’t show up until the bottom of the first page.
I’ll be honest: oftentimes I knowingly click the ad in Google search. It doesn’t cost me anything, it helps Google keep the wheels turning (and I use a ton of Google services, so I’m kinda keen on them staying around), and I still get the result I wanted in the end. It’s a win-win.
And hey, look at the bright side here—at least Google is far better at policing its ads than Bing is.
Of course, if it really bothers you, you could always switch to another search engine, like DuckDuckGo—which does the exact same thing. Heh.