Google Adwords – The devils into the detail - Showtime Digital

Google Adwords – The devils into the detail

02 August 2016 Read 1588 times

You may have noticed over in early-mid June 2016 Google changed how Adwords advertisers were represented on Search. In short they changed listings from a Yellow Ad button to a Green Ad button as seen below.


Old vs New

Google Adwords listings - yellow to green


We challenge anyone to say the Green Ad button representing Adwords advertisers don’t look similar to the organically ranked listings.

Google’s Adwords business is worth approximately $20 billion each quarter so when they make changes to their Search pages it’s calculated, they don’t just give it to Gus and Mike in the back room to fiddle with on a Friday afternoon.

We’ve analysed multiple pages including the above page to find out how this affects the consumer when they’re using Search. To conduct this research each advertiser receives a value based on the visibility of the real estate they occupy on the page. This is calculated by using an artificial intelligence which determines exactly how visible a marked-up area on a page is compared to the rest of the page.


Graph 1

Graph 1


Graph 1 highlights the decrease in advertiser visibility and this points to there being significantly less awareness on the page for advertisers and that’s a good thing if you’re selling products and services online. To illustrate why this change was made we need to focus on a combination of user bias, on page friction and user experience (UX).


Reducing on page friction

Most of us have a bias when we visit Google Search. This bias has built up over a number of years and the goal is to remove this bias as much as possible. Generally we associate a person’s bias with it also being their preference. On a Search Engine Results Page (SERP’s) a person’s bias comes down to choosing the Adwords road or the organic path. That’s a cross roads for the consumer which requires a decision to be made. It’s effectively a friction point which happens even before they get to the answer (or your website) and that’s not good for advertisers. This need to make a decision has been removed and visually advertisers and organic listings have blended together.


Graph 2

Graph 2


Graph 2 illustrates this point by showing the old method of using Yellow Ad buttons against the new format. Previously there was a greater visual difference between Adwords and naturally ranked listings. Today much of that distance has been removed.

In pursuit of the consumer Google is the referee and no one likes the referee!

Google has been strong on improving user experience and this is a prime example of them leading by example. And before you think we’ve all jumped into bed with the devil, the reason I say this is as conversion optimisers we want to eliminate all friction prior to the consumer becoming a conversion on our landing page. This includes slow load times, poor internet speed and SERP’s itself. Removing this one friction point potentially makes it easier for consumers to achieve their goal and helps my clients to increase conversions year on year.


Graph 3

Graph 2


When we analyse a variety of desktop pages from both double and single pane iterations of SERP’s we find the values in Graph 3.

In the new Green Ad button format there’s less spread across 1st to 4th advertisers in relation to the organic results and this makes distinguishing either more difficult. It also makes the test (and this is a test) a lot more manageably for future improvements because:

  1. It eliminates most of the variables
  2. It’s a more stable platform for A-B testing
  3. It delivers more accurate data


  1. The 4th advertiser In Graphs 1 and 3 represented in the Yellow curve was on the right hand side of the page while the 4th advertiser in the new green Ad format is just above the natural results on the left side of the page.
  2. Interestingly the first organically ranked placement in our tests recorded exactly the same value, coincidence… perhaps.


Table 1

Table 1


Table 1 shows us the specific values for the above ‘business loans’ SERP’s page. Overall we see lower values for advertisers and improved values for organic ranks. The on page clarity has improved markedly and the emotive triggers remain static.

This informs us the goal of the page upgrade is to lower the friction points for everyday users on SERP’s. How have they done this? Page Blend; by decreasing the significance of certain elements they have blended everything into one. On this page alone the visibility of advertisers has dropped by a significant 25% and when we took calculations from a larger group set the number came to 19.4%.


Advertiser visibility

Old vs new

Advertiser visibility


Old vs new

Advertiser visibility 2


When looking at the advertising listings, specifically at the 1st and 3rd positions we can see the Green Ad format is a lot more subdued in nature with no bright colours (apart from the Star Ratings). The first advertiser in the new page is a lot less noticeable by a significant 28.5% as is the 3rd advertiser by 23.6%.

It’s like producing a song where specific instruments have been toned down to blend into the rest of the composition. It’s a stroke of genius and a great insight for anyone in the Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) field.

As a positive note for advertisers there may be less need to be in first position on the page, at least on Desktop. Some of our best results for clients in the previous double pane format came from 5th position on Adwords (although we wouldn’t recommend 5th position today).


Organic visibility

Old vs new

Organic visibility


Between the migrations from Yellow to Green Ad buttons the allowable characters in the Meta Description has increased for organically ranked pages from around 155 to approximately 170 characters.

Due to this you’ll notice the character descriptions in the new page are spread a greater distance across the page and this has slightly changed the values. But despite its larger area its value has increased. This is curious because logic says if the real estate is larger the value would decrease in relation to the sum of the page. The reason a larger area decreases in value is because the human eye is near-peripheral and can only focus on an element 5 degrees from centre.

This proves our hypothesis the new page is more visually balanced and less confusing to the eye.


History tells us...

SERP’s 2013 vs SERP’s June 2016

History tells us...


When we look back to 2013 and see how advertisements were represented, in only 3 years we’ve gone from highly visible to hardly identifiable.

To a large extent the key difference is the lack of colour. Colour perception in the human eye weakens past 20 degrees from centre so the more contrasting the colour is past 20 degrees in relation to the surrounding environment the better the eye will detect the difference. So by contrast large yellow boxes and yellow Ad buttons are easier to acknowledge than the green Ad buttons.



In multiple tests we conducted our analysis indicates page clarity has increased by approximately 50% over the last iteration. They’ve removed as much visual confusion as possible and this may contribute to an increase in actionable outcomes because they need not make a conscious decision between advertisers and ranked listings.

For advertisers this means buyers will more readily stay in buyer mode. Today there’s less need for consumers to deviate from their original goal because there is no conscious decision to be made.

Conspiracy theorists may say Google’s goal is simply to elevate the visibility of paid advertisers and lower the acknowledgement of organic results. In part this is true but it’s not as sinister as that. The clutter has been eliminated and this will focus the consumer’s intent. That’s called improved User Experience.

If the conspiracy theorists have anything to grab on to it’s interesting to see green copy and Green Ad buttons placed against the orange star ratings of advertisers. Deuteranopia or Green/Orange blindness is the most common form of colour blindness and affects approximately 6% of the male population.

Regardless of whether you love or hate the changes which have been made, Google wants to make Adwords the most stable online environment for companies to sell products/services globally and we think they’re done a pretty good job of it.

If you want to access the software we’ve used in this analysis to test your own website click here.

Steve Palmer

Steve Palmer is the Joint Founder and CEO of Showtime Digital. Steve has been in B2B sales since 1997 but influencing people and behavioural science has been a long-term passion.

The magic he brings to his clients is in knowing how to engage their audience. His goal is to help businesses understand the deeper reasons of why consumers convert online with them.