A recent change to Google's desktop search results may be much more than just a fresh aesthetic.
According to new research, Google's latest method of flagging ads in search results may be further blurring the line between organic and paid placements, and having a measurable effect on the likelihood that users will click-through promoted results.
Google's changes, which were rolled out last week, label advertisements using an icon called a 'Favicon' located to the left of a result to indicate that it's promoted.
While the icon, which is two bold black letters that spell out 'Ad', clearly signifies where the result comes from, many have pointed out that with the addition of icons next to every single search result, the promoted results end up visually blending with the rest of the results.
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On the left is an example of what Google's current search results look like. An 'Ad' favicon can be seen next to results that have been promoted. On the right is an older design with a clearer delineation of what is an ad and what isn't
The favicon pictured above is used to mark ads across desktop and mobile. Non-ad results also use favicons that may or may not look similar
As noted by a report from Digiday, market research following the change has provided initial evidence that the homogenization between ads and non-ad results is already starting to convince more users to click-through advertisements.
Digital marketing agency NordicClick says that compared to the week prior to the change, four businesses studied - a health care company, two business-to-business platforms and one e-commerce company - saw their click-through rates rise from between 4 to 10.5 percent a week after the changed.
The same change to Google's mobile search results in May had an even more pronounced effect on click-through according to NordicClick, causing rates of two companies to go up between 17 to 18 percent within a similar time frame after the change.
It's worth noting, however, that other advertising agencies cited by Digiday did not see a noted bump in click-through rates, so the effect may not be the same