Is Google Intentionally Trying to Minimize the Fact that These are Ads?

Like many people, I have a less expensive, older LCD display at home that works just fine. With one exception. It makes Google Ads look just like a genuine search result. Obviously a screen shot doesn’t capture the “failings” of my typical display so I took a shot of the screen using my iPhone where you too can experience the lack of contrast. There is absolutely no distinction between the Adwords Express Ad and the local result. And the Adwords advertiser has the temerity to fake their reviews to boot.

But even when the yellow highlighting is visible, it might not really convey the fact that these are ads. My daughter, 19 and a reasonably savvy consumer of technology, asked me last week what the yellow meant. One assumes, in a company that tests things so much the decision is not accidental.

Do you think that Google makes the ads obvious enough?

(Click to view my bad photo of my LCD screen larger)

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Is Google Intentionally Trying to Minimize the Fact that These are Ads? by

60 thoughts on “Is Google Intentionally Trying to Minimize the Fact that These are Ads?”

  1. This happens to a monitor I have as well. The only way i can tell the difference is by reading the description. It is actually pretty annoying. I vote no they don’t differentiate organic and ppc enough.

  2. @Dean

    I would venture a guess that there are lots of monitors like yours and mine. As Perry Evans so eloquently put it definitely “a whiter shade of pale”.

    I agree very annoying.

  3. You nailed it Mike. This is not accidental at all.

    Google banks on the simple fact that despite all the cries of “FOUL!” by the internet industry those cries only represent a miniscule percentage of actual users. It’s probably a throwaway percentage in fact.

    Vast majority of people could care less if Google does this. They just want results (as do advertisers). This helps deliver them.

    My question is SHOULD they be required to make the ads obvious and if yes, why?

    People can cry “Evil!” if they want but there are probably better ways to spend your time.

  4. Actually it is interesting you mention that, Mike. About 2 weeks ago I changed the contrast of my monitor to lighten the color for a while. Accidentally I had to also perform a Google search and I did the impossible! Unconsciously, I clicked on an AdWords ad thinking it is a normal search result. The ad was not really close to what I was looking for so at first I was like “Whaaat? Are Google’s results already that bad? And I didn’t even used the personalized search…” Then I went back and I noticed that this MIGHT HAVE BEEN an ad. I darkened the colors back and yep, I could already (vaguely) notice this was an ad (actually a set of ads).

  5. @Frank

    There has been a long history of clearly distinguishing between editorial and advertising content in the media. I assume but do not know that there are legal and social precedents for this.

    To me, consumers have a right to know the difference. If Google obfusicates the difference then problems result where the consumer thinks they are viewing editorial content.

    Would you not agree that consumers should be able to tell the difference so as to be able make informed choice?

    @Nyagoslav
    Annoying as hell isn’t it?

  6. Google realizes that most websites do not pay them for ad space. They are trying to make the results as uniform as possible so organic listings have little reason to no reason not to pay them. If the user can’t tell the difference, why wouldn’t everyone want to buy ad space? Instant, personalized and targeted results… especially as time goes on with Google sharing all info across all their properties… they’ll become the most targeted Advertiser out there.

    Oh, and this probably has something to do with (not provided). If you want keyword level info, one great option is to pay for ad space… expecially because you can’t tell it’s an ad anyways.

    Oh… and this huge push to get everyone to sign-in to Google won’t fade. They need people to sign in to become the most targeted advertiser in the world.

    What do you guys think?

  7. It says at the top “Ads” then has a link that says “Why these ads?”

    I could also get a bad monitor, tweak with the settings so that the color balance is all off, take a blurry picture with a camera at just the right angle, and call foul on just about anything… Bing’s ads… ads on this site (for example, are the links on the site really NAV links, or just “ads” for other services provided by the site owner or third parties?)… magazine ads… etc…

    If Google tried to call more attention to the fact that these were ads by adding extra whitespace between the ad and the organic results (pushing the organic results further down the page), added a much more noticeable highlight, and made the ad flash with animated arrows pointing at it, then people would cry foul that so much attention is being given to the ad and not to the organic results.

    At some point, there’s always somebody’s 17-year-old daughter who won’t recognize an ad… won’t know the junk mail she received for a credit card offer wasn’t “just for her”… won’t know what browser she is using or what a search engine is or even what the Internet is. We don’t need to dumb down the Internet to make sure everyone’s 17-year-old daughter appears to be a genius. We just need to educate people, and accept the fact that there will always be people who still just don’t quite get it.

    It’s like Denis Leary said once (paraphrased)… you could put a skull and cross bones on a pack of cigarettes and say in bold letters “these will kill you” and people will still smoke… some might even smoke those ones more. If so, does that mean the package still wasn’t made scary enough?

    I don’t see any obfuscation going on here at all. It’s about as obfuscated as the empire state building is obfuscated from the New York skyline.

  8. I’ve noticed it for a while now. This is a research-heavy time of year for me and I’ve taken to almost universally disregarding the top few results, unless they have a .edu in the address (university extension offices have great info in my industry). I’m sure a few babies get tossed out with the bathwater, though.

  9. The main takeaway for me is that you really need a new monitor. C’mon, Professor — a basic flat-screen 19-inch monitor should run you $100 or less. Join us in 2012!

    :)

  10. @Mike – In a perfect world the informed consumer would actually pay attention and all of this would matter. Back when the colored background was much more obvious I cannot tell you how many STILL didn’t know that those were paid ads. Outside of the people buying those ads there was little concern about the differentiation.

    I am not trying to be difficult. I think the consumer should be informed. I want them to be informed. I also want them to care. Honestly, though, just a shaded background is not informing the average joe. In fact, it is telling him/her to CLICK HERE!

    In the end, Google should do everything that is “right” but in a world where relativism rules there is no clear definition of right so no one can ever truly be wrong (unless of course they break the law).

    By the way, are you seeing less and less maps listings for local results? Has the pendulum swung the other way for Google? Is this all part of the Google+ play?

    Thanks for all you do!

  11. @Frank
    Last things first: For information on the fewer maps listings see: Is Google Reducing the Local Search Result Footprint? and be sure to read the comment stream.

    The reason there are rules around advertising is to protect both the consumer AND the publisher. Eric Goldman of the Technology and Law Blog was kind enough to provide this feedback to my question as to what rules and laws governed this:

    This is a complicated area because there are dozens or hundreds of legal doctrines that make legal differences between ads and editorial, and each law may have its own definition and may be enforced in different ways. WRT search engines, one starting point is Complaint Requesting Investigation of Various Internet Search Engine Companies for Paid Placement and Paid Inclusion Programs

    The upshot of the FTC guidance was:

    1- Section 5 of the FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce. The Commission will find deception if there is a representation, omission, or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer acting reasonably in the circumstances, to the consumer’s detriment.

    2- In short, the staff is recommending that all search engine companies(8) review their Web sites and make any changes necessary to ensure that:

    –any paid ranking search results are distinguished from non-paid results with clear and conspicuous disclosures;

    –the use of paid inclusion is clearly and conspicuously explained and disclosed; and no affirmative statement is made that might mislead consumers as to the basis on which a search result is generated.

    I would suggest to you (And my wiseguy friend Matt McGee) that Google is on the very edge and perhaps over the edge of what appears to be a very reasonable ruling regardless of the quality of my monitor or the judgements of my daughter.

  12. I run 3 monitors. One is less than a year old. On all 3 the background color of paid ads is very hard to see. More so in some monitors over others, but yes, the colors have been intentionally lightened to entice more clicks.

  13. Oh, stop defending him, Stever. They don’t even sell flat-screen monitors in Canada yet, do they? ;-)

    I’m gonna take up a collection amongst the local search chumps to get you a new monitor, Professor.

  14. I note with some glee the Canuck-isms abound in these comments!

    w00T!

    that said, yeah Mike….buy a new monitor – and Matt, I hereby offer up $10 CDN to start the fund – put a button on your blog and I’ll donate same!

    :-)

    Jim

    PS how far back would I have to try to remember to think on the violet/lilac shading that used to be used???

  15. @Jim (& Matt)

    Its going to get expensive if you have to replace Stever’s monitor too. I checked my monitor again, reset the brightness, contrast, colors etc and while it will never be a Mac LCD display it is fairly typical of most low end PC displays.

  16. I, like others above, agree this is intentional. Google sold their souls a few years ago and are quickly going down hill.

    As for the fake reviews I am getting sick of it. For one of my clients we are dealing with an out of town business using a fake address, keyword stuffed url, and mass posting of fake reviews (14 in the last 2 days!). With all this we have reported the company to Google via every means possible to no avail. Basically Google does not care and unfortunately this is to their own peril.

  17. I have several monitors. At least one less than a year old. I have to move off to one side to see the yellow clearly. Maybe it is an “old eyes” thing.

    I have had clients click on them thinking they were answers/organic search results and then complain to me when it took them places they did not expect. They though their computer had been hy-jacked.

    Has caused me (and I hope my clients)to loose some of the trust I have had in Google. Seems to run contrary to their stated goals.

    I hope they don’t think that it will be worth it for them in the long run.

  18. Mike: Over the long term Google has made ads larger and dramatically less distinguishable from organic results. Plus it has added all types of attention grabbers to ads to encourage clicks.: site links, reviews, visuals, etc.

    They have also diminished the visual difference between an ad and an organic result. Its very hard to tell the difference

    Google is trying to make more money. They are doing a damn good job of it.

    Here is something different I’ve noticed with regards to local ad campaigns. Its been more apparent over time.

    I run a bunch of aggressive adwords campaigns. I run them for specific industries. They generally pay. I eliminate ones, specifically thematic ones that don’t pay after testing for a while.

    They generally payoff in that the cost per click is less than 1% of a sale. At those ratio’s I don’t care if a lead comes from adwords, organic, or Places. I want the leads.

    Here is the dramatic change

    I run a lot of local/regional smb adwords campaigns. They are all run on regional geo bases.

    I run campaigns with a lot of [exact term] phrases and a lot of broad term phrases. The broad term phrases capture the many many long tail variations of exact term. Literally 10′s of hundreds if not thousands of broad tail variations.

    On each type of business I include both exact term and broad term for the single major phrases.

    Here is what is astounding. There is explosive growth in the volume of impressions for the broad phrase major terms.

    Simply Google is putting those ads out at an ever increasing number. The explosive growth is in terms of 150-300% more than last year for the major broad phrase terms.

    I know overall impressions haven’t increased by 150-300%…so that means Google is showing those ads in conjunction with lots more products/services.

    When i look at clicks for the broad phrase terms via the “see search terms” button in adwords….I see the same kinds of terms I’ve historically seen. There is a relevance there.

    (In fact–over time–as is good practice–I add to exact phrase the variations of those broad terms that show the most.).

    But the impressions volume has grown by astronomical amounts.

    What does that imply

    Here is what I think. Google is running ads as a reaction to lots more phrases. They are working to get more ads for every search phrase…highly relevant or less relevant…but plug them in there.

    Even if the ads don’t generate clicks they push up the bid price on all the other ads….and Google makes more on every click.

    Between more visible, ads with features, ads that are indistinguishable from organic results….and lots more ads filling the google results…to effectively push up the bid prices and the cost per click….

    Big Google is making a lot of money.

  19. I’ve seriously had people thinking the CD/DVD tray that opens and closes was a cup holder.

    Some people have really thought electrical tape conducts electricity.

    I’ve known people who thought liquid gasoline was combustible and was convinced that cars really do explode after a crash like they do in the movies.

    I’ve seen some people go to google.com and type “yahoo.com” in the search box.

    People do all sorts of things or believe all kinds of things that really put them on the bottom of the food chain.

    We can either believe all corporations (or all intelligent people, for that matter) are just preying on the ignorant because it’s the human thing to do.

    Or, we can simply believe that everyone has less evil motives and sometimes the naive get easily tricked by their own ignorance.

    Now, sure, there might be some understandable circumstances… bad monitor colors… an old monochrome monitor… a person who is blind and is using a screen reader… someone who made the font on their computer horrendously small and they don’t know how to fix it… but at what point are we going to hold these people responsible for their own incompetence?

  20. @Bob

    If one were to take your argument to the extreme you would suggest that Ford should continue selling Pintos and the owners were dumb for buying them. Certainly one always needs to balance individual responsibility against corporate responsibility.

    That is the purpose of rules and laws. To clearly delineate what and what can’t be done in the name of profit.

    I am not suggesting the users have no responsibility. I am asking whether others thought Google had crossed a line that has been draw in case law (for a good reason) and was intentionally obfusicating their ads and masking them as editorial content.

    It was surprising to me that so many technically savvy posters acknowledged that even they had to do be careful not to click the ad as they appeared like organic results.

  21. Right, and all I’m saying is that it takes an extreme amount of cynicism to believe the intent is to deliberately mislead the consumer here. If they got rid of the background color altogether or got rid of the “Ads – Why These Ads?” indicator, then you’d certainly have a case. However, it seems to me like you’re going after the only search engine that is taking a stance with keeping a separation between ads and organic results and leaving the other search engines out of it. That just wreaks of extremism against the largest or the “love to hate” target, which doesn’t sound sincere at all.

    For instance, I did a search for MUSIC on Yahoo, Bing, and Google.

    On Google, the ads were clearly indicated on my screen with the background color and the “Ads – Why These Ads?” indicated made it pretty clear where the ads were.

    On Bing, the ads were also clearly indicated on my screen with a background color, but the color was a light blue. Could a cynic wonder if they’re trying to take advantage of people who have a blue/green color- blindness? Also, instead of having “Ads – Why These Ads?” Bing just had “Ads”. So, they have even less text to call attention to the ad space.

    On Yahoo, the ads were also clearly indicated on my screen with a background color which seemed fairly close to the background color used on Google. However, instead of calling these “Ads” they call them “Sponsored Results”. I recall a study a while back that suggested that people mostly ignore the moniker “sponsored”. In other words, they may simply see these as “results” and not care that they’re “sponsored”. I also seem to recall that Google used to say “Sponsored Results” and there were cynics that were upset by this and wanted them to be called Ads, so they complied. Where are the cynics against Yahoo? What’s worse is on Yahoo, beneath the ad there were additional links. These links were called “More Sponsors” but the links looked EXACTLY LIKE “Related Searches”. So, a cynic would say that they are clearly trying to confuse the typical user into thinking these are merely “related searches” found at the top of the page. Guess what happens when you click one of these? It gives you an entire screenful of ads. Aside from the background color (which apparently your monitor doesn’t show very well) and the easy to ignore “Sponsored Results” indicator in the top of the screen (which is already fairly cluttered), the page pretty much looks like a search result page, but every link is an ad.

    So, in a sea of terrible offenders, you pick the least offensive one (albeit the most popular) and then suggest that they’re intentionally trying to blur the line between ads and organic results?

    The fact of the matter is… if they mislead someone into clicking an ad that turns out to be irrelevant, then that click isn’t going to convert for the advertiser. As a result, the advertiser is going to treat that advertising space with a lesser value. As a result, in the natural bidding process, that ad-click is going to cost less. In the long run, this means less money for the search engine. So, it is in the best interest of the search engines to make sure that every advertising click is as relevant as possible so that the value to advertisers is still high. As a result, relevance is good for the user.

    Finally, you mention that it’s surprising to you that “so many technically savvy posters” had to be be “careful” not to click ads? Why do they have to be careful not to click ads. If the result is relevant, why not click it? Why should a consumer care whether or not it’s an ad? Do technically savvy posters also have to be careful not to click on irrelevant organic results? Is Google trying to disguise irrelevant organic results as relevant organic results in a ploy to destroy the universe?

    A single blog post and fewer than 1000 responses later does make this a scientific study. It’s anecdotal at best. If I created a blog post titled, “Did you apply to work for Starbucks and they denied your application?” and went on a rant about Starbucks, it should be a given that a majority of the comments to that blog post would be from others who were also denied a job at Starbucks. Reading too much into this, you’d be convinced that the entire world of technically savvy people have all tried to apply to Starbucks and were all turned down. Reason and logic suggests that this is not the correct conclusion to draw.

    This post has simply brought in a few dozen people who also have old monitors, haven’t calibrated their monitors correctly, or otherwise just like to dislike and distrust large corporations. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be weary of big money. After all, a prime goal is to make money and that money inevitable comes from us all. However, once the healthy does turns into paranoia and cynicism, you might as well pitch a tent in the woods somewhere and live off the land, ’cause clearly a bunch of demons are trying to take advantage of the technically savvy folks with old monitors.

  22. All good points.

    I understand that Google operates for a profit. I also understand that the drive for profit can (but down’t always) lead a company to cross over the line of appropriate/legal (drug ads?).

    This is not unique to Google. The nature of the drive for increased profit drives every company to maximize them.

    I look at Google because Google is what I use and understand. They are neither more or less guilty nor more or less likely to be guilty. Still the question is worth asking (and is worth asking about all search engines but I am not asking) : Have they made ads less obvious and is that activity intentional.

    That would then beg the question of whether it was appropriate or not.

    I would agree that the results are anecdotal. But if you read the comments carefully it appears to happen on a range of newer and older monitors. That was why I asked in the first place: Was it me or was it more than just me. I use my blog to check reality.

    I am not making a blanket conclusion. I am saying that they are questions worth asking. As questions always are.

  23. Bob, and what about when there is no problem with my monitor, and when I am (supposedly) a tech savvy person, using Google practically every day, and the search result is very irrelevant, but I click on it thinking it is an organic result? Is that good for me? No… Is that good for the advertiser? Definitely not. Is that good for Google? Yep. Did Google test such a situation? I can bet on that.

  24. I hear you, and I do think it’s a valid question to ask, but I suppose I’ve just grown wearisome of articles or blog posts whose titles ask a question. In almost all cases, the question isn’t truly a question but is a conviction disguised as a question. Inevitably, it only draws in the attention of people who want to chime in with a “me too” and then everyone gives each other a metaphorical high five and then proclaims that something needs to be done.

    It sickens me just as much to see headlines on the other end of the spectrum similar to, “Is Google Our Savior?” At some point, the only valid answer to these questions are, “No.”, “Probably not.”, “Who can say for certain?”, “Unlikely.”, etc…

    In a world of more direct acts such as Sony configuring music CDs to auto-install a program when it is inserted into a computer and this program scans your hard drive and reports to Sony the music you have on your system (this was a while ago and I believe they backed down from this)… it’s a little disheartening to see backlash over a background color that’s difficult to see on some monitors. As a developer, I know how difficult it would be to create a website that works exactly the same on every monitor, every screen type, every color setting, etc… So, you build for the majority and the rest slip through the cracks. To claim that a developer is intentionally trying to shove those people down the cracks is just frustrating in the least.

    Knowing the sheer amount of testing Google does, it’s likely they had tested two different background colors and found that the lighter pink color converted better. Could this be simply because many people thought it was an organic result? Perhaps. However, if the ads weren’t relevant, then the clicks wouldn’t convert well and it would damage the overall ecosystem.

    If they moved these ads above the search box, then some might claim they are giving even more preferential treatment to ads. If they made the background color more noticeable on all screen types, it would probably stand out like a sore thumb and, again, people would claim they are calling too much attention to the ads. (It will start looking like Yahoo Mail does with all of their flashy ad banners.) I’d be for getting rid of ads that appear above the organic results altogether, but it would need to be an industry-wide law. If Google were to simply decide to do it, advertisers would flock to Bing.

    So, maybe I feel you asked the wrong question. Differentiating ads from organic results will always be a situation where you can constantly find enough technically savvy people to make the case that there is STILL some confusion. No background color is going to satisfy everyone. No amount of separation is going to satisfy everyone. You can have an endless supply of blog posts titled “Are their latest changes for the greater good, or is there still evil intent here?” Perhaps the only question is, “Should ads appear above organic results?” I’m not sure what the answer to this question is, but it should be against the whole industry without picking out a particular player in the game.

  25. @Nyagoslav

    When there is no problem with your monitor, and when you use Google practically every day, and the search result is very irrelevant, but you click on it anyway, is that good for you? Well, I would argue that by those actions in that string of circumstances, you aren’t a very technically savvy person. I mean, really? It wasn’t relevant and you clicked on it anyway? There is a preview feature that lets you see a snapshot of the page without clicking the link and that wouldn’t have given you a further clue as to the usefulness of the site? Would it be good for you to click on it? No. But it wouldn’t matter if it was an ad or an organic result. What’s not good for you is just not good for you and you need to pay more attention to the links you click on.

    Is it good for the advertiser? Certainly not. However, if it’s not good for the advertiser then it is NOT good for Google. Maybe I’m making too many assumptions about how familiar you are with Google’s policies when it comes to advertisers, but they penalize ads that aren’t relevant. If they detect that users are clicking ads but are immediately returning to the site, they are invalidating those ads and often times the clicks themselves. They will refund accounts for invalid clicks. Since the advertising is based on how much per-click an advertiser wants to pay for a given search term, if the advertiser is paying too much for an irrelevant term, that’s their own problem to deal with. It’s not up to Google to make the advertisers themselves smart, but they will penalize advertisers when they’re making irrelevant ads appear to their users.

    So, when advertisers do dumb things, can Google end up profiting a bit from this? Sure. However, it hurts the overall ecosystem and results in lower and lower overall income for ads. So, it’s in Google’s best interest to serve up the most relevant ads most of the time. Do they miss the mark sometimes? Sure. Do their organic results miss the mark sometimes, too? Sure. No algorithm is going to be 100% perfect. The game isn’t over. There’s still plenty more to do.

    However, if the claim is that Google is intentionally trying to garner accidental clicks, then you clearly think Google is trying to shrink their company. My bet is that they want to grow their company, not shrink it.

  26. @Bob

    Writing headlines is one of the hardest things I do. They require brevity AND accuracy AND some measure of appeal.

    Besides your very good question there are several others that come to mind that I didn’t ask:
    *Should Google automatically highlight reviews in Adwords Express ads?
    *Should they take the user to the Place page instead of their home page?
    *Is the Place page a truly relevant result?
    *Should Google have better spam abatement so that the 13 Reviews are better vetted and are NOT spam? Is that deceptive?

    PS I don’t think anybody is saying that Google is looking for accidental clicks. But their relevancy algos often do not work at an appropriate level. The question at hand is whether Google is muddying the line between paid and non paid results.

  27. Bob, maybe you’d be good with reading my first comment above and use it as a prequel to answer some of your assumptions.

    Besides, I do not assume anything. I just state facts. Not sure why you are putting words (thoughts?) in my mouth. From a click like the one I described the direct, “tangible” effect is that 1) the user loses time; 2) the advertiser loses money; 3) Google earns money. Everything beyond that is conjectures.

  28. @Mike

    “Should Google automatically highlight reviews in AdWords Express ads?” As a consumer, these help me, so my answer would be yes. I would imagine that advertisers with low reviews would say “no” and advertisers with good reviews would say “yes”.

    “Should they take the user to the Place page instead of their home page” As a consumer, this helps me. I like to be able to see a page that is consistently formatted and shows the information I am looking for, such as store hours or reviews. So, yes, for consumers this is a good thing. The option is always there for me to visit the actual website, but I rarely do this because it takes me longer to find the information I’m looking for, especially on websites that are overly engineered into a huge advertisement. For site owners, they should be happy to provide the relevant information on this Place Page. After all, they have certain control over the information that appears there, so there’s a bit of ownership there.

    “Is the Place page a truly relevant result?” Yes, it usually is for me most of the time. If I search for a local business, I’m usually looking for some straight forward answers like business hours or which methods of payments they accept. If anything, I might be frustrated by the business owners that haven’t taken the time to update their Place page with relevant information or haven’t even bothered to claim the page in the first place. After visiting their website, it usually becomes pretty apparent why that is.

    “Should Google have better spam abatement so that the 13 Reviews are better vetted and are NOT spam?” Sure. No system is perfect and the way Google is, it takes them at least three years to do things that everyone else is already an expert on. Look at Google Offers and the like. Google is slow. They throw engineers at the problem, it gets tested to death, and years later they finally decide to start throwing money at the problem (or they just can it altogether). I suspect their review system might be better in a few more years.

    “Is that deceptive?” Only if it’s intentional. I don’t suspect it is. It’s just the usual way Google fumbles with the engineer-only approach. Perhaps it’s just irresponsible.

    @Nyagoslav

    I had read your first comment previously. All that tells me is that you are really sad when you find out the links you clicked on turned out to be ads. (Why not just use an ad-blocker browser extension if ads make you so sad?) I also gathered from it that this problem only happened because you were messing with the settings of your monitor. In other words, collateral damage. Furthermore, you seem to be convinced that if something is bad for advertisers and is good for Google, that it is a sustainable business model. I would argue that this is not the case. If anything is bad for advertisers, it will kill the business model and this business model is the only reason Google can continue to exist. So, while your “good for Google” viewpoint is that Google can collect more pocket change, I would imagine their engineers are hard at work making sure people have as few bad experiences with ads as possible so that they can keep raise the value of the ads on their system.

  29. Google won’t show the stars unless they are 4 star or higher, then they are shown automatically. At this point the problem with review spam has been on-going for 4 years with little movement. That fact that Google allows so much review spam, highlights it in their own ads and then leads the view (with no option for the buyer of the ad) to the Place page is questionable in its own right.

    Once on the Place page Google shows competitor information AND ads (big surprise).

    So there is another benefit to Google if the stars are inadvertantly clicked on.

  30. Not sure if I’m paying dramatically closer attention to this but today off a flat screen monitor and having used IE, Firefox and Chrome….the color distinction for ads was very visible.

    I think its been dramatically less visible..but this view creates a clear distinction.

    Are any other people seeing a visual difference from a couple of days ago?

  31. Having the stars “inadvertently clicked on”? Why are so many people clumsy with their mouse? Maybe people need to tone down the mouse speed?

    What if I inadvertently click on the “Like” button on this page? I suspect some very evil underhanded deception going on with this website. By clearly putting the “Like” button “on the page”, it’s trying to trick people into inadvertently clicking on it. Evil evil eeeeeevil.

    :/

  32. By that I meant to say that it isn’t clear to either the ad reader or the creator of the ad that Google will take the person to the Places page instead of the website. NO WHERE does Google document that fact. The ad buyer that has reviews will have the stars shown if they have more than 2 reviews and higher than 4 stars. The users will be automatically redirected to the Places page. The buyer of the ad has no choice in the and it is my opinion that the business owner should have choice.

    Is that unreasonable expectation that an ad purchaser would be informed of the ads behavior and be able to direct the reader of the ad to the landing page they think most apprpriate?

    Where I see the problem (not a conspiracy but perhaps intentionality) that Google highlights the ad automatically with Stars and then redirects the user to their Places page where the user gets to see more ads.

  33. I’m going to refrain from levying any criticism against Google, as I am largely dependent upon them, and getting on the company’s bad side won’t leave me in business for very long.

    That said, I know that my AdWords Express budget was drained awfully quickly, and with only a single conversion – and even that would up being a customer who came into the store to make the purchase (we prefer when they buy online – online customers are far less trouble to deal with).

    I don’t know the answer, but I will concede that the question posed about the “Big G” and its intentions is a very good question, and one that needed to be asked. Nice post!

  34. @Ed Barnat and @Mike: I looked at ads yesterday, thought the color distinction was pretty evident. Even sent a screen shot to Mike.

    This morning I’m looking at the ads and dammit I think its a slightly lighter less distinctive tint than yesterday. Same screen, same room, same lighting.

    Are my eyes going….or is Google endlessly playing with a/b testing.

    I remain convinced on many issues that Google endlessly tests how it presents information. At some point the test may gain a level of standardization ….that is until they change it again.

  35. @earl……re: “endlessly playing with A/B testing…” — geez aint that our job?

    in my world, i.e. if I owned Google, I’d do that testing but NOT in NA….I’d have a server farm spread out over many diff locales to test same – and NOT ever in NA…just cause those of us who seem to “most vocal” are from here….just saying….if the results are based on human perception, they’d work no matter where the A/B was done….and you’d avoid us all pitching in with opinions, as we’d never see it?

    what do you all think….

    :-)

    Jim

  36. @ Jim: I dunno. maybe I’d spread the results everywhere…and maybe they do. Then I’d put em in NA and read what the commentators (whiners) have to say ;) ;)

    Nyuk, nyuk

  37. @Mike

    Do you have an example search that I can test with? I have been testing and I’m not seeing the confusing behavior you describe. When I get an ad to show up that has reviews, clicking the ad itself takes me directly to the website. The only time I get the places page is when I specifically click either the link that says “[x] Reviews” or “rated” or “[x] seller reviews”. As a user, I would expect that clicking either of those would take me to further details regarding the reviews of that website. If clicking either of these links simply took be directly to the website where I am unable to see these reviews, my experience would be broken. Since these reviews are ones placed on both Google as well as reviews collected from other sources such as Bizrate, the only place to see all of these reviews in one spot is the Places page. When it’s not a local place, then it’s just a reviews page.

    @Jim

    I’m willing to bet they intentionally test out in the open where their most vocal users *will* take to forums and complain. I’ve heard they have an algorithm where they attempt to measure “user happiness”. I’m sure this is mostly connected to whether or not users return to the site, how often, or how much they interact with the site, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they also use the data they crawl from various forums (such as this one) and detect “happy words” and “angry words” when referencing their services. So, perhaps they are constantly running a/b tests and looking at peaks and valleys of user happiness in forums, then they might manually read a sampling of these messages to determine what people like or what people don’t like. This, in turn, could feed into their internal task list as to what to tackle next, keeping them eternally busy.

    Just a theory.

  38. @Bob

    You are looking for Adwords Express Ads. They have a pin pin with a dot in the middle (not a number which is an Adwords with Local extensions).

    Here is a search that has a lot of these ads with reviews: custom jewelry design nyc. What you find confusing as a user is important but equally important should be the purchasers right to turn off the feature. Perhaps I want them to come to the website and NOT go to the Places page, should I not be able to define that when I buy the ad?

  39. @Mike and Bob: Couple of things:

    1. Mike the link doesn’t work.
    2. I searched on the search phrase and lo and behold it turned up ads with Places elements…but NO MAP.

    I hadn’t experienced that before. Is that what you guys are describing? That is tricky/sneaky and enticing to click on the ad. I sort of felt like a trained rat by Google. First they introduce me to the G maps/G Places inserts into Google Organic with an actual map. That itself is visual, educational and helpful.

    But to place the Places type info without a Map is direct inducement to click on the ad..for the formerly available maps info.

    Is this turning up a lot now??? its google sneaky. I sent a screen shot to Mike.

    I’d try and spank google on that one. Seriously…seeing that for the first time got me feeling as if Google is treating me like a lab rat.

  40. I fixed the link.

    These are all Adwords Express Ads. They automatically show stars if there are more than 2 and they are 4 stars or better. They take the user to the Place page. None of those behaviors (show reviews/or not, goto place page or not) are optional nor is the fact that they take you to the Place page.

  41. @ Mike: I don’t get it though? Why no map? Why Map/Places features without a Map. Is that common?

  42. @Earl

    That is new. They have stopped showing as many PLaces results and this one is a clear case where the advertisers AND Google think it is a local search and they should.

  43. @Mike:

    From my perspective, seeing a search which generates Google Places information, as shown in those express ads…but without a Map is entirely disquieting…and I feel like a trained lab rat.

    Google got me familiar with the Maps/Presentation but now doesn’t show the map.

    Its a sneaky….malicious move to try and force me into clicking on the enticing maps info. If I were an advertiser without the Maps data showing I’d be screaming bloody murder.

    if i were a website with an organic result I’d be screaming bloody murder..and as a consumer/user…I now feel manipulated by Google.

    This is an ugly result……G Maps stuff on the page…and no Map

  44. This isn’t a symptom of bad monitors as some are suggesting. It is down to how monitors are set up.

    On my desk I have 2 identical monitors configured add dual screen. Both are reasonable mid range affairs. One of them I have calibrated as I use it for photo editing. It could be said that this is the one that is correctly configured.

    Google as highlighting is practically invisible on the “corrected” monitor.

  45. That could also explain why I am having a hard time seeing it as well. I have “tweaked” all my monitors (4) for photos.

    Maybe it is not my eyes (or my mind) after all :)

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