Hiding in Plain Sight – Looking at Paid Ads in Google’s Card View

 In The NetSearch Blog
Some staff members in the NetSearch offices recently noticed something a little different with Google’s search results. For some of us, they’re displaying in a new way, using a “carded” view to show ads, news, and search results. It appears that Google is now using their Material design layout they utilize in mobile search results on desktop. The results display this way randomly for some of our employees (some of us couldn’t see Google search results this way at all), and there doesn’t seem to be any way to trigger this new view manually.

At first, this might seem irrelevant, but it’s important to note the absolute monopoly Google has on internet searches. Every adjustment to their design and the way they display information is certainly calculated and deliberate after being discussed by a room full of programmers, finance guys, behavioral analysts, and user experience experts. Google made a big change to the way they display PPC ads in February 2016 – placing three to four “highly commercial” PPC ads on the top of search results, three more on the bottom, and removing them entirely from the sidebar. Although there was some concern that this would increase competition and CPC prices, many people’s costs has stayed about the same – and it’s actually improved CTR for many advertisers. Conversely, it’s lessened the page one real estate available for traditional SEO – which is part of a larger trend for Google in general.

We thought it might be interesting to take a look at how ads are displayed on Google’s new card view on desktop, and compare it to how ads are displayed in Bing and Yahoo. Screenshots below, with the ads highlighted in the right column.

Google (Material design – card view on desktop)

Full disclosure – I’m a fan of this layout. I think it’s clean, crisp, and aesthetically pleasing. With the shift to mobile first, it makes sense for Google to display their results the same way across all devices, and the card view does a great job of keeping things consistent regardless of screen size. However – it does make me wonder how this new look might affect paid click results.

Bing (desktop search results)

Bing’s search results don’t look dissimilar from Google’s results from about a year ago. In some ways, it seems like they might be playing catch up – cribbing design notes from Google’s layout and seeing if they’re effective for their purposes. Like Google, they clearly denote paid ads with a tiny icon under each headline to mark them, although theirs is less obvious. They’re still making use of the sidebar, and seven ads display above the fold.

Yahoo (desktop search results)

Yahoo is still making full use of their sidebar, with four ads displayed above organic search results and another three directly to the right of them. My boss thinks Yahoo is the best at “hiding” ads and I have to agree. Although there is a message above the blocks of ads to denote them as such, they don’t have icons next to each one like Google and Bing, making it much less obvious that they’re paid ads when given a casual glance.

Mobile-First

So what’s the takeaway here? Yahoo and Bing display their results similarly to one another, with Yahoo obscuring the difference between ads and organic search a bit. Only time will tell if they decide to update their layouts or maintain a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” view on displaying paid ads in search results.

Google ‘s been shifting towards a more robust search experience for years – meaning more ad extensions, an emphasis on local search results, and new layouts for search results for different types of queries. The new carded layout is almost certainly a test for a shift to a design that promotes their mobile first mentality – something they’ve publicly emphasized for over a year. How this might affect PPC is unclear, but it’s certainly worth being aware of. This is purely anecdotal, but CTRs for ads in positions one through four should hopefully improve with the new layout (or stay about the same in a worst-case scenario). After all, it’s in Google’s best interest to get their paid search traffic more clicks.

 

About The Author

Dave LaBrie is an Internal Marketing Specialist at NetSearch Digital. When he’s not researching ways to improve businesses’ marketing efforts, he enjoys drinking craft beer and making terrible memes.

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