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James Perrin

Are Google Blurring the Boundaries of Paid and Organic Results?

7th Feb 2011 Paid Search, Google AdWords, News, Industry News, Paid Search 2 minutes to read

Last week Google announced they are set to lengthen the headlines for some adverts in AdWords, another step taken to improve Click through Rates (CTR) for PPC ads on SERPs. However, is this deceiving the user by blurring the boundaries between paid and organic search results?

Last year we announced that Google had given their AdWord Ads a bit of a makeover, a move that has seen more options available to advertiser to optimise their adverts by providing much more information [See: AdWords Ads Get a Makeover on Google SERP’s]. Whilst these changes provide advertisers with a little more value and greater freedom to personalise campaigns, Google are also guilty of making the distinction between paid and organic search results hard to decipher.

On their official AdWords blog, Google have announced certain adverts are set to receive longer headlines [See: Longer headlines for selected ads on Google]. Specifically this means they will be placing some of the description found in description line 1, into the actual headline and separated from the main headline by a hyphen.

If you click on the link to Google’s Blog you can see the example they give. Putting the strange wording of the description in that headline to one side, you can clearly see the increase in headline length.

Google state that this move will be good for advertisers CTRs and it’s pretty hard to disagree with them there. I have no doubt that with a richer description highlighted in the title of an advert will encourage users to click on that paid search result. Provided the client is using a targeted campaign then they can include far much more information to entice the user. This may then increase conversion rates and sales, but as I say, provided their campaign is targeted.

However if you have a broader campaign, the natural search style of your adverts could see them blend in seamlessly – attracting unrelated click. Although this may improve CTR, it may also increase the bounce rate. The real point here is that with the paid search result looking ever similar to organic search results, are Google deliberately making these changes to deceive users as opposed creating a ‘better experience for users’?

Well it has happened before as Search Engine Watch revealed with changes to the lowercasing of the URL display name [See: Google AdWords Display URL Changes: Boon or Bust?] and changing the name of the paid results section from Sponsored Links to Ads [See: Google’s ‘Sponsored Links’ Renamed ‘Ads’]. Furthermore, with the colouration of the Paid Results section reducing the distinction between paid and organic search results, it’s very hard to ignore what Google are doing.

The blurring of the lines between paid and organic search supports the notion that Google are focussed on accruing more income rather than giving the users a better experience. It’s difficult to see how having indistinguishable paid and organic results on SERP’s will improve the user experience.

Can Google be blamed though? They are after all trying to improve advertisers’ CTR, as well as adding a few pennies to their own coffers. For advertisers though, it could mean a higher bounce rate, depending on how targeted their campaigns are. Finally, if a higher CTR is achieved then this may have an impact on organic search and increase the amount of paid search results on SERPs. We can only really tell when we see what impact this has on the ‘user experience’.

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