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Are PPC ads really becoming invisible?

by Naomi Young | 06.05.2016
Ofcom’s latest media use and attitudes report says that half of search engine users couldn’t spot sponsored links in search engine results.

This is quite a significant number of people, and higher than I would have thought it would be. Are search results ads really that invisible? (I’m slightly biased as I do work with PPC ads on a daily basis…)

23% of the study thought they were the best or most relevant results, 20% said they were the most popular results used by other people, and 12% weren’t sure.

More established internet users were able to correctly identify the ads – 51% compared to 34% of newer internet users (newer internet users are defined as those who first went online less than five years ago).


So, what’s happening to the paid search results which is making them less identifiable as ads?

After cutting right-hand-side ads, all paid search results are integrated within the list of organic results. With organic following seamlessly into PPC ads, users may be finding it more difficult to differentiate between the two.

Also, some of the team noticed that Google has been experimenting with the colour of the ad labels, turning them green. The official reason for this isn’t known, perhaps it was a bid to blend more in with the colour of the display URL? And this isn’t the first time Google has changed the labelling – until a couple of years ago, PPC ads were more obvious as they were on a shaded background, suggesting that Google might be taking steps in order to try and reduce the visibility of results.

Possibly ‘banner fatigue’ could be playing a part in the results of Ofcom’s study, with people just becoming too used to ads and therefore not being able to tell one from the other.

Whatever the reason, this study highlights the importance of organic and paid results working together ensuring visibility.

More info here and the full report can be found here.