Google's big new move — We're calling it "Camouflaged Ads"

Friday, January 24, 2020 by Robinhood Snacks |

If you thought your ads had disappeared... look again. Google just made ads harder to distinguish from organic search results. These "camouflaged ads" subtly launched last week, blurring the line between what you were actually looking for, and what companies are paying to show you.

  • Before last week: It was easier to recognize (and gloss over) ads — a squared-off green "Ad" label next to promoted links at the top of a Google search page.
  • Now: Meet, "favicons." They're like little logos that Google now sticks next to search results. Ads now look exactly like organic search results, except with the black word "Ad" where the favicon should be.
  • The Problem: No more bright colors or boxing off. Less intuitive, more misleading. It's an ad that's trying to fly under the radar (like when you wave back at someone who wasn't waving at you).

Slow burn... Over the years, Google has slowly but surely made its ads harder to spot. After all, Google is an ads biz — 85% of its $40B in revenue last quarter came from ad sales. Here's Google's visual ad evolution:

  • Up until 2007: Ads were obvious on the page, stuck against a blue background.
  • 2008-2010: Google experimented with other, lighter colors (remember violet?).
  • 2011: That ad space background was changed to less-bold yellow.
  • 2013: Then it became a paler yellow.
  • 2016: No more yellow background — just a small green "ad" label (until now).

Another pros before cos scenario... That's "profits before customers." Users are less likely to avoid clicking on paid ad results if they can't tell it's an ad. Advertisers get more clicks, Google gets more $$$, and users get less clarity on valuable/desirable search results. Google's motto used to be "don't be evil" (now it's "do the right thing"). Making money from hard-to-spot ads isn't evil, but it's way less transparent.