While a good percentage of the “tech-savvy” crowd use ad-block solutions, it’s easy to forget that the average person doesn’t. The average person is also most at risk of accidentally clicking ads because they’re less likely to discern them. Google is making it easier to do just that.
Until 2013, ads in Google’s search results stood out with a clearly highlighted background in a different color and a notice at the top saying “Ads”, even including a button linking to more information, presumably to understand why you’re seeing that ad.
Over time, Google has gradually changed the gradient of the background highlighting of ads to make them more difficult to differentiate from regular search results; slowly lightening the shade since 2010, before removing it completely in 2013.
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Since 2013, Google had included a big, bright yellow “Ad” label next to the link of the ad, just below the title. In 2014, that label was made smaller and the gradient once again lightened. In 2016, that yellow was changed to green, probably for the psychological reasons, since green represents “Go!” or something that is safe and friendly.
Despite all these iterations over time to psychologically make it easier to bait the naive into unintentionally clicking ads, up until now, it was fairly obvious to distinguish between sponsored links and organic search results. Last week, Google implemented yet another change that blurs the distinction almost completely.
Even the “Ad” label no longer has a distinguished background that clearly color-coded it. What’s worse is that the label was moved up next to the link, to the same position where the website’s favicon normally sits. This makes it very easy to mistake it for a favicon if not paying attention, particularly with the lack of color-coding.
The Twittersphere and the media alike have been making noise about this, and rightly so. Early data does confirm that “click-through rates” have increased.
What’s worse is that Ad-block by default allows Google’s ads now, calling them “acceptable ads” that are “not annoying and don’t interfere with content.” Fortunately, you can still opt to disable them, for now.