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Google Blurring Distinction Between Ads and Organic Search Results 187

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-will-be-notified-which-results-are-ads-in-6-months dept.
jfruh writes "For years, paid links returned from Google search queries have been set off from 'real' search results by their placement on the page and by a colored background. But some users have begun to see a different format for these ads: a tiny yellow button that reads 'AD' at the end of the link is the only distinguishing feature. Google is notoriously close-mouthed about this sort of thing, but it may begin rolling the new format out to more users soon."
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Google Blurring Distinction Between Ads and Organic Search Results

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  • Slippery slope (Score:2, Informative)

    by geeper (883542)
    They've been on the slippery slope for a while now. Not exactly evil, but not forthcoming either.
    • Re:Slippery slope (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Friday March 14, 2014 @07:54AM (#46481651)

      I'm one of the users seeing this. The ads are still obvious to me - I assumed that they did it to make the site more mobile-friendly, but it could be a downward slide down your slope.

    • Re:Slippery slope (Score:5, Informative)

      by NIK282000 (737852) on Friday March 14, 2014 @07:55AM (#46481659) Homepage Journal

      Their business is to get people to click some links more often than they click others, there is nothing strange about this. Not to mention you have to be braindead not to notice the big yellow "Ad" button, there is nothing evil about getting free clicks out of people to dumb or lazy to read the entire link before they click it.

      • by paazin (719486)

        there is nothing evil about getting free clicks out of people to dumb or lazy to read the entire link before they click it.

        Just like there is nothing evil about throwing mountains of legalese inside a EULA before you are able to use a piece of software?

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Their business is to get people to click some links more often than they click others, there is nothing strange about this. Not to mention you have to be braindead not to notice the big yellow "Ad" button, there is nothing evil about getting free clicks out of people to dumb or lazy to read the entire link before they click it.

        Just like how GMail swapped the "Delete all email from this folder" link and the ad line on the Spam inbox. Anyone with muscle memory will try to click where the link was, and end cup

    • Re:Slippery slope (Score:5, Informative)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday March 14, 2014 @08:29AM (#46481889)

      Did you actually click the link? If anything the paid results are more obvious in my opinion. There's a bright yellow icon marking them out explicitly as "ADS" versus a light grey border labeled euphemistically "sponsored results". This is, at most, a step to the side, not a step backwards.

      • Re:Slippery slope (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Friday March 14, 2014 @08:38AM (#46481967) Homepage Journal

        Did you actually click the link? If anything the paid results are more obvious in my opinion. There's a bright yellow icon marking them out explicitly as "ADS" versus a light grey border labeled euphemistically "sponsored results". This is, at most, a step to the side, not a step backwards.

        That's what I thought, too.

        Heck, personally speaking I find the new ADS icon a lot easier to notice than the background-color-ever-so-slightly-different-than-the-non-ad-background-colors they used in the past.

        Also, if you want to see an example of actual shady behavior regarding ads, go over to Yahoo.com and click the "News" link. about every third or fourth "article" in the feed is an advertisement, but apparently the marketing drones over there allow advertisers to make their ads look exactly like the other news feed items.

    • That slippery slope is making them accelerate downhill at a faster rate.

      -- Yet I can't seem to ditch my Gmail account....

  • Being a non profit non evil organisation does not mean that they can't have a few ad's here n there ..
  • Search poisoning (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sinij (911942) on Friday March 14, 2014 @08:01AM (#46481689) Journal
    If they start poisoning search with for-profit results Google will be quickly reminded that they are not the only search engine in town.

    I don't know what they are thinking, but there is no brand loyalty for any web service. There is only usability and convenience. Sure, Google is convenient, but if they take a dump on usability #2 search engine will laugh all the way to the bank.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      If they start poisoning search with for-profit results Google will be quickly reminded that they are not the only search engine in town.

      As long as the ads are marked somehow, a user script will be able to suppress them.

      It's sad I need to mangle the web to make it usable, but not as sad as not having a mangling facility would be.

      • by causality (777677)

        If they start poisoning search with for-profit results Google will be quickly reminded that they are not the only search engine in town.

        As long as the ads are marked somehow, a user script will be able to suppress them.

        It's sad I need to mangle the web to make it usable, but not as sad as not having a mangling facility would be.

        As someone who runs NoScript, Adblock Plus and various other user scripts, I think it's a good thing to be able to take control over your own experience. It's good not to be passive. It's good to see only what you want to see. The more people do this, the more these companies have to comprehend that this is the nature of the network in which they have chosen to participate. The Web would lose most of its appeal to me if it were entirely corporate controlled like television.

        What's really sad is that o

      • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

        As long as the ads are marked somehow, a user script will be able to suppress them.

        It's sad I need to mangle the web to make it usable, but not as sad as not having a mangling facility would be.

        Let me get this straight - you don't want to see ads, so you want to suppress a little yellow box that is warning you that if you follow the link that says you'll be looking at an ad.

        I guess you just want to be outraged when you go to a site and find out it was an advertisement, instead of a little warning that you might see something you don't want to see, and therefore you don't click on it. Then you don't get outraged. Damn Google anyhow!

        • Its a search engine. I type keywords and expect certain results. If what I get instead are meaningless ads I'll start using a different service.

          • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

            Its a search engine. I type keywords and expect certain results. If what I get instead are meaningless ads I'll start using a different service.

            Have you actually gone there?

            If a couple little yellow boxes are able to send you frothing at the mouth, then fine. You do need to go somewhere else, and you'll be making yourself and everyone else happy. I don't always want ads, but then I don't click on the links to them. But sometimes I do buy stuff and want to see the ads. Stupid choices anyhow.

            • I used to use Lycos, Hotbot and Altavista. I've changed search engines before.

            • by sinij (911942)

              Dear shill. Nobody wants to see ads, as such "want to see the ads" statement gave you away as a post-for-hire.

              Search engine primary function is to facilitate search, any other function, like getting you to buy stuff is very distant secondary purpose. If this secondary purpose impedes primary function in any way, then it is flawed product and is not doing its job well.

              If you get too greedy trying to trick us into buying stuff, then you will be shown the door. We will use Yellow Pages if we mu

              • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

                Dear shill. Nobody wants to see ads, as such "want to see the ads" statement gave you away as a post-for-hire.

                I've been found out! Looks like my plan of:

                1. Contact the millions or businesses advertising on the internet.

                2. Convincing them all to pay me to squelch any dissent.

                3. Hang out on Slashdot and disagree with people

                4. PROFIT!

                isn't going to be the gold mine I thought it was.

                But thans for the chuckle.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          As long as the ads are marked somehow, a user script will be able to suppress them.

          Let me get this straight

          You failed.

          you don't want to see ads, so you want to suppress a little yellow box that is warning you that if you follow the link that says you'll be looking at an ad.

          English is not your strong suit. I clearly said I would suppress the ads.

      • As long as the ads are marked somehow, a user script will be able to suppress them.

        If only some open-source organization would provide and maintain that script.
        It doesn't make much sense to spend an hour coding every time Google changes their markup, but if the script would be administered centrally, then it might be useful.

    • I'm sure that Google, with the tens of billions of dollars it has invested in the infrastructure necessary to catalog all the information on Earth, is shaking in its boots. Some 19 year old is building a data center in his dorm room RIGHT NOW...

      • So how many servers did Google have when they started? Oh right a PC in a room in Stanford. How many servers did Altavista have back then?

        History repeats itself when people repeat the same mistakes.

    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      If they start poisoning search with for-profit results Google will be quickly reminded that they are not the only search engine in town.

      Gosh, I know this is Slashdot and all, where, if Ben and Jerry's introduces a new Ice cream flavor it's proof that global warming and evolution was disproved, and that teh eval Guvmintz is tracking your bowel movvements.....

      But Google's little yellow box that reads "AD" in front of a link that is an ad telling us that the link is indeed an advertisement is sort of a good thing for people that don't want to click on ads for all their search results.

      They might not want to click on that link marked as an

    • by ehud42 (314607)

      If they start poisoning search with for-profit results Google will be quickly reminded that they are not the only search engine in town.

      And other search engines (that matter) are?

      Bing?

      My point being, google's dominance in the search space, while not guaranteed, will certainly offer them a fair bit of buffer to experiment.

      • If they start poisoning search with for-profit results Google will be quickly reminded that they are not the only search engine in town.

        And other search engines (that matter) are?

        Just google for search engine.

    • by Gothmolly (148874)

      Google is a verb. I think they've won. Pass the kleenex please, I need to put a bandaid on this jello.

    • They have done worse than that. They poison the search with useless results. Starting with their ongoing campaign to pare down and "simplify" the search interface by removing "advanced" search terms and changing the way strings and keywords are handled. (e.g enclosing in quotes no longer results in an exact string search...)

  • Inorganic search results

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Am I the only one that thinks this makes it more obvious?

    • I'd say it's a wash, therefore I have no objection to the new format. A large yellow box that says "Ad" is not overly subtle.

      Unlike what some of the people here apparently think, I've no objection to advertising per se. It's a way for companies to make money, and Google has never claimed to be anything other than a for-profit corporation. Their tracking games, and some of the other things they do are one thing, but clearly labelled advertising is fine. Do people here also object to printed ads in magazines

    • by Megane (129182)
      Considering as how they previously used a background color that went almost invisible on LCD monitors, probably. I had to search for something generic like "toothpaste" to see this new "little yellow square" format for the first time, and it is indeed more visible than that stealth background color.
      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        I had to search for something generic like "toothpaste" to see this new "little yellow square" format for the first time, and it is indeed more visible than that stealth background color.

        Thanks for an example that produces this result. I tried non-obvious things like "franklin delano roosevelt" and "golfball handstand" and got no ads. I did notice that the former query gave me a half page (right side) summary of FDR, and the latter had no summary (but left the entire right half of the page blank just in case there might have been one. What a waste.) I think it would be much better to put the "sponsored results" back on the right side since it will be empty otherwise, and it removes the ad

  • "Organic" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FuzzNugget (2840687) on Friday March 14, 2014 @08:15AM (#46481781)

    That's as bullshitty a term as it is in your supermarket. There *are* no "organic" results when they're calculated based on your tracking history, ad clicks and social connections.

    Friends don't let friends get tracked. Use the quack that doesn't track! [duckduckgo.com]

    • by causality (777677)

      That's as bullshitty a term as it is in your supermarket. There *are* no "organic" results when they're calculated based on your tracking history, ad clicks and social connections.

      Friends don't let friends get tracked. Use the quack that doesn't track! [duckduckgo.com]

      I use startpage.com [startpage.com] myself. I like the idea of getting actual Google search results without any sort of Google tracking. They don't even log your IP address and they're outside of US jurisdiction.

      By the way I hope our federal legislators appreciate that. I hope they are proud that now, "outside of US jurisdiction" has become a selling point.

    • Friends who are not my friends apparently want me to stop finding meaningful results.

      DuckDuckDon't.

      • by lgw (121541)

        I've never understood this complaint. I've always found what I was looking for on the first page of DDG results (which of course is usually the same as the first page of Bing results), and almost never see link-farming pages.

        Admittedly, I search for C#/MSDN stuff a lot, which one would hope Bing would be good at. What sort of searches is DDG so bad at?

  • The ad notation still seems obvious enough to me. Google is also known for efficiently using screen space and bandwidth. Small changes can have significant savings when you are dealing with things on the scale that Google does.

    Then again it could just be some evil in the works. :-)

  • by mrbene (1380531) on Friday March 14, 2014 @08:21AM (#46481821)

    I'm in the test group.

    It may be my eyes, the angle at which I use my screen, the brightness and contrast I prefer, or something else, but the background color has always been almost undetectable to me.

    The new configuration, a simple yet obvious graphical element indicating "Ad" indenting the sponsored links, highlights them much more effectively for me.

    +1 for this change.

    • And +1 to your post, as I've had exactly the same experience (when GreaseMonkey has failed to remove the elements completely, that is), and I rather suspect that was the idea. "See?" says Google, showing the EU commission a CRT screen with a page of search results on it. "The ads are obvious!"

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      I get the same thing on some browsers/devices. The color difference ends up being almost undetectable. (Then, on other browsers, it's perfectly clear.)

    • by BRSloth (578824)

      And I wouldn't actually call the button "tiny" either: http://i.imgur.com/023wVgV.png [imgur.com]

    • by Bill Dimm (463823)

      I'm in the test group, too. The very first time I saw it, for a split second my brain wanted to think the ads were part of the organic results due to the lack of background color differentiation. Since then, I've not been at all tempted to accidentally click the ads, so I think it will make no difference a few days after they transition people over to the new layout (if they ever do).

    • There's tons of ways they could make ads more discernible. And they opt for a small yellowish graphical element that is barely different from the background color? That's not a +1, that's a -1 in my book.

      • by Solandri (704621)

        And they opt for a small yellowish graphical element that is barely different from the background color?

        I just pulled the new layout into Photoshop. The background is 255, 255, 255 (RGB). The yellow "Ad" label is 234, 176, 53 (RGB), or since we're talking about a white background, 0%, 32%, 92%, 0% in CMYK. If that is "barely different from the background color," you need to throw away your monitor and buy a new one. No don't try to sell it used; it'd be a crime to inflict such a poor screen onto anyon

    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      I'm not in this test group but I've been in another where the previous colored background went away and there was only a little tiny (font size 4) AD way to the right after the link. I know I was clicking AD's because it tried to bounce me off the doubleclick servers (I use extensions that block redirects without my approval). I thought I'd gone insane at first and was blind but I went back and looked and they had deliberately obfuscated that it was an ad. Without being very careful it was almost impossibly

    • by Control-Z (321144)

      Yes I think they're more obvious now too. What I don't like is the larger font.

    • by Solandri (704621)

      It may be my eyes, the angle at which I use my screen, the brightness and contrast I prefer, or something else, but the background color has always been almost undetectable to me.

      Google's background is white - 255, 255, 255 (RGB). The old sponsored links background was 254, 247, 221 (RGB). Our eyes are pretty bad at detecting differences in blue [nfggames.com], so it didn't take much of a bad monitor or settings to clip the colors to where you couldn't distinguish the two backgrounds. This mostly happens on poor qual

  • Didn't Google just agree in a European Commission settlement to, among other things, make the ads more discernible from the search results?

    • make the ads more discernible from the search results?

      Which, as far as I can tell, is what they've done. This looks more obvious than the off-white box, to me. YMMV.

  • This article is completely ridiculous. Google was scamming everyone with their off-white beige box with almost no border that indicated an ad. Unless you were looking directly at it at a perfectly 90 degree angle, any low to mid grade LCD monitors would turn the color back to white. They should gotten a billion dollar fine for that. I know some many people who had no idea those were ads.

    Now it's a huge, bright yellow button that says "ad." Isn't this part of their settlement with somewhere in Europe a
  • This, at least, looks better to me than the ever-so-pale-background box, which I can barely see unless I'm looking at my screen from an angle.

    Not that I ever see it anyway now, thanks to GreaseMonkey.

  • Because they are f***ing relevant!

  • To detect the AD and color it's background blood RED. 90% of the ad's when you search for a program's name are scumware that pollute the users computer. Google knows this and they refuse to fix it because they make money off of it.

    I really hope that someone finds a way to identify the ad's so adblock can strip them, or we can at least warn people away from them.

  • I started seeing this recently too. I don't recall exactly when, but I barely gave it a thought. Something akin to "Oh, Google changed their layout a bit." It's still quite blatant which items are ads, and I wouldn't consider the "ad" tag to be a "tiny yellow button." It sticks out like a sore thumb, and furthermore, just looking at the titles of those particular "search" results makes it obvious the first few are ads.

    Interestingly enough, the new layout has actually prompted me to deliberately click on

  • This is already being abused by phishing and scam sites.

    Search for the Car Tax, Driving licence or DVLA (UK Driving Vehicle licencing agency) and you see three ads for application scams sites.

    The same for a UK fishing licence, or European Health insurance card.

    • by rhazz (2853871)

      This is already being abused by phishing and scam sites.

      How exactly are phishing/scam sites abusing a stylesheet change in google search results?

    • by advantis (622471)

      They did that before the layout change too. Even I got tricked by them for a while. Never gave them any money, but they frustrated me quite a bit, as the information I wanted wasn't there. They looked like the government websites I was used to - same layout, same fonts, same colour theme - so it took me quite a few minutes to force my eyes onto the URL and realise that it's a $placeholder-gov.co.uk website instead of the $placeholder.gov.uk I expected.

      It's gotten so bad that it warranted some press attentio [moneysavingexpert.com]

  • are like that for a while..... That's how it gave me virus.
  • Yes, they got rid of the pinkish coloured background from top ads, and removed the separator from the side bar. But the ads are still separated by a grey line, have a yellow icon in front of the ad with the word "Ad" in it, and an exclamation mark in a circle beside the ad blocks. If you can't tell they are ads, you aren't paying attention.

    • by PPH (736903)

      I must have classic view selected. Because I still see the pinkish background (and no yellow icons).

      To be honest, I'd rather have the icons. The background color is difficult to see on crappy monitors.

  • If the first link is an ad and it's what I'm looking for does it matter?

    How ads are identified doesn't matter when it is evident it is an ad. What matters is that I find what I'm looking for on the first page with the least amount of clicks. As a customer of Google I do not want people who are not looking to buy to come to my site. If someone is looking to learn about diamonds they most likely are not looking to buy. So a generic search of diamonds may lead to a page of jewelers a user would not click on an

  • I have not only noticed this with Google but I've also seen something similar on legitimate file download sites like FileHippo, CNET, and others. They plaster the site with download links and you might not actually be downloading the original file(s) that you have intended but adware. It's actually hard to decipher the download link that you actually want to click. I have lost count of the number of computers I've had to clean up because of this. It's really dishonest.
  • Use other search engines, other social media (like GNU Social), and let us take the hegemony out of the 'net.
  • Anyone who can't see the yellow box with the word "Ad" in it shouldn't be in the Internet. My opinion on this, is that this new method actually makes it far easier to see which ones are ads, since each such result is clearly labeled right at the beginning of the link-out.

    The people who would miss this or be confused by it are the same ones who'd already have so many infections on their computer from clicking idiotic things that it's unlikely their browser would even load Google. ;-)

  • As I think I've posted here before, the last three or four years, google results have been getting worse and worse - I regularly see things I've excluded with a -"search term" that have that term, explicitly, in the semi-para that's displayed, And the ads are *much* worse. I was looking for mens boots -ladies -women -womens (and yes, if you give or do not give a plural, the other will show up), and saw a sponsored ad for women's boots

    ROI has definitely cut into usefullness. And why hide the advanced search?

  • Its quite clear what is going on, and the difference between honest results based on popularity, and paid results, based on how much you can afford to pay.

  • Have been caught several times by that damn firefox re-packager when searching for the mozilla firefox download. Their ad looks very similar to a legit search result and is at the top.

  • "There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages. There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever."
    Marissa Mayer, December 2005

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