Search Engine Giants Asked to Review Appearance of Paid Links

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The FTC requested over a year ago that Google, Yahoo and Bing highlight their paid ads in the SERPs to negate the chance of PPC results being mistaken for organic search.

“Consumers are being tricked,” Robert Weissman of Public Citizen says. The consumer advocacy group first insisted on the issue of search engine guidelines back in 2002, according to the Wall Street Journal.

However, despite being asked to highlight paid search results prominently, it would appear that the measures taken to do so are still being called into question by the FTC, as small edits to the appearance of said listings don’t appear to be enough of a distinction.

Paid Search Ads Now

At the moment, Google specifies paid ads by placing a little yellow box reading ‘Ad’ beside the title tag. The paid results are split from the rest with a thin grey line, while sidebar links show just one yellow ‘ad’ box at the top.

google paid ads

Bing has chosen to display ads with a hardily perceptible grey background, and the text ‘Ads’ in the top right corner. For the search ‘online casino’, the ads take up the majority of the landing screen.

bing paid search

The same is the case for Yahoo, which uses a light blue background and a sentence at the top specifying top results as ads. It was hardily possible to see where the blue box ended on my screen.

yahoo paid search

Google’s ad results seem to be considerably clearer, in my opinion. I mean, look at that one from Yahoo, it’s a barrage of ads, but I had to change the resolution on my monitor to see where they ended.

Search advertising is one of the most profitable services offered in the sector. According to Wall Street Journal, search ads are expected to generate about $55 billion world-wide in this year; almost half of all online-advertising revenue. As the leading search engine, Google will be taking most of that.

The cynics in us will be mindful of the fact that if consumers can’t tell the difference between paid and organic results, that means more money for Google. But on the flip side, if paid ads are marked up clearer, surely they’ll drive more click-throughs anyway by drawing the eye more effectively?

Over the years, Google has changed the way it presents ads. In July 2010, ads were displayed on a yellow background. The colour was changed to a pale purple, but about 7 months later the colour went back to yellow.

When the colour was changed from yellow to purple, Google gave the reason of updating the Google colour pallete, according to Search Engine Land. It didn’t seem to have much to do with making ads any more or any less prominent. In fact, Google played around with a good few colours before it eventually switched to the yellow ‘Ad’ button we see today.

Whether Google and the others will start to mark things clearer is yet to be seen; personally, while I think Google’s method is adequate, Bing’s and particularly Yahoo’s way of tagging their search ads seem to be pretty deceptive. When you can hardily see where the ad box ends, you’re gonna get clicking on the top results – a nightmare for SEO.

What do you think about this?


Written by Sarah Chalk

Sarah Chalk

Sarah is an SEO Account Manager at 360i and has a keen interest in all things SEO. She has also written for a number of sites, including Vue cinema’s film blog and a number of tech websites.

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