I’ve recently noticed a format change in the appearance of Google Ads on search results pages. Depending on which browser or platform I’ve been on at the time, the display of this new format has been hit or miss.
The current ad format is subtle, less intrusive, passive and nearly indiscernible to the user’s eye. We’ve grown accustomed to the nearly invisible tinted block and small gray text introducing the ads. So why change a good thing? One thing is certain — Google is collecting data on how this new, more obvious format is performing.
This new direction may not be a step in evolution, but a reaction to pressure from outside forces and regulators. Or possibly it’s a combination of both technology changes and anti-trust battles in the EU. (Here’s the media’s take on the state of the battle.) Having seen the ad style on my desktop computers, I took a quick look on my mobile phone to see how Google is handling the user experience there. True to form, Google had the styling the same for both platforms. I suspect it’s been that way a bit longer on mobile devices considering all of the recent changes to AdWords bidding and targeting controls and the big push to mobile.
Regardless of the influences or pressure, the effect this style change will have on click-through rates remains to be seen. Once Google settles on a treatment that has a near neutral or zero effect on click-through rates, we’ll see it across all platforms and browsers overnight. I also expect to see subtle iterations in rapid succession until the dust settles and we begin to fully understand the changes ahead for PPC and organic search in 2014.
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