Google has confirmed an update to the style of its AdWords as labeling. Here’s what you need to know about the update and what it means for getting your ads seen on the network.
The New Google AdWords Label Design
Sometimes it’s the subtlest of details that culminate into major changes in the appearance and function of familiar digital platforms. Google’s new ad labeling is one of these subtle details.
In February, Search Engine Land (SEL) reported on increased sightings of a new ad label on Google search ads. What was once a solid green label with white lettering was being replaced by a white label with green outline and lettering. The first reported sighting was on January 24 in the United Kingdom.
Google confirmed to SEL that the newly styled label is rolling out globally, which is why so many people have noticed it in recent weeks. The search engine giant calls the new label clearer and more legible than the previous one, and the result of routine improvement testing.
The History of Google AdWords Labeling
During the past year, SEL has started keeping a record of how Google’s ad labels have evolved over the last decade, with the latest update being the new green outline/text and white background.
The previous incarnation, though short-lived (only about six months), departed from making the ad label a different color from other elements of the listings. The solid green background was the same shade as the display URL. Earlier versions used yellows, pinks, blues and greens to make the ads pop out from the organic results.
Beyond the color changes, the ads have various added features (like ratings), use a more compact layout and are expanded. The ad label itself has also gotten smaller, as you can see in the 2013 and 2014 examples below (pulled from SEL):
That last graphic in the image is from a mobile search, according to SEL. Google’s ad labeling is basically the same across mobile and desktop, as well as on the mobile web and iOS/Android search apps.
When Google first switched from yellow to green labels, it said that using the same green for the ad label and the display URL was intended to “streamline the number of colors” on the page, especially for mobile users (see link in the first section).
Another aspect brought up by SEL is how much more subtle ad labeling is now than in past manifestations, while at the same time ads take up pretty much all the space above the fold. The Federal Trade Commission expects search engines to make a clear differentiation between ads and organic results, and Google says its testing shows that users are not confused about which results are ads and which are organic.
Just to play devil’s advocate for a minute, we’ll mention this study from Ofcom that found 51 percent of search engine users could not identify advertisements or sponsored links on a results page.
As an advertiser, realize that the subtlety of your ads’ presentation means you should work that much harder to make those ads as relevant and helpful as possible.
Remember, too, that ads have prime real estate over organic listings in the SERPs Put keywords near the front of the ad, take advantage of extension options and include reviews. For more tips, check out our post on mobile’s influence on how we view search results and ads.
How the Industry Feels About the New Ad Label
According to a Search Engine Watch (SEW) article from contributing author Clark Boyd, one of the first questions in response to the ad change is “Why?”
The article points out that we should keep in mind that the lack of impact is shown in Google’s own testing, and it would make sense for them to downplay how similar the results look in the interest of garnering more ad clicks.
Then again, the frequent updates to the ad label seem to simply be a good business decision. After the switch from yellow labels to green ones in 2016, WordStream looked at the CTR data. Before the switch, Google’s CTR was 11 times that of other search engines. With the adoption of the green label, Google’s CTR shot up to over 13 times that of other search engines, and has leveled out at more than 12.5 times other CTRs.
Of course, the subtlety is also indicative of the wider trend toward a mobile-first approach. Smaller screens call for a less-is-more design, and Google has to compete with the likes of Facebook in the world of mobile advertising.
One final aspect of the discussion centers on paid versus organic search, and whether or not paid will eventually take over the results page. We’ve discussed how users feel about digital, and specifically mobile, ads, and that it’s not always stellar. As an advertiser, you’ll need to think about not only competing with other advertisers, but creating that ideal user experience.
This ad label update might seem like a small thing, but, as all things with Google, it can lead down the path of big changes. Advertisers need to be ready to own search pages, appeal to users and move toward mobile-friendliness to stay at the top of the list.