Google barely (corrected from “not”) shading search advertising links!

Google is no longer narily, barely shading the advertisements that appear at the top of the organic listings on the left of the search web page. This may be a regional thing or experimental (I’m in Oregon on Charter ISP), but it’s very conspicuous and frankly it makes it very difficult to distinguish between ads and real content.

Although I’ve always held that Google has a right to do this type of thing, I’ve always been frustrated with the pretense that they always take the high road and “don’t do opportunistic things”. This is a huge departure from Google’s previous approach and claims, which suggested how critical it is to separate organic and commercial listings. As this screen shows it is now *impossible* for the user to make that determination. Good for advertisers but bad for users and somewhat misleading.

The FCC actually claims to object to this approach, telling search engines some time ago that they need to make a clear distinction between commercial content and non-commercial.

I’m assuming they are testing the affect on clicks and revenue, and clearly it will be enormously profitable to do things this way as smart users typically look first to organic listings and last to advertising. However, in the long run it challenges the idea that Google’s primary interest is providing “unblemished” results. At the very least Google owes people an explanation here, and if it does not include the fact they’ll make a lot more money this way, and that that was a prime motivation, clear thinkers are going to call foul on this new practice.


8 thoughts on “Google barely (corrected from “not”) shading search advertising links!

  1. Hi Joe,

    I checked here in Idaho – there is a shading, it has just changed to a VERY Faint pastel pink. I looked closer and I think the very faint pastel pink shading is on your screen print too.

    Does this mean that Google is pretending to take the high road and is really blurring their definition?? It looks to me like the almost invisible shading is Not a Clear Distinction . . . .

  2. Hey Joe, what’s up? Your screen-grab looks just like my screen, which has a yellow shading for the sponsored links. I’m guessing they changed the color to something more white-ish, and it just shows up a bit differently depending on a person’s monitor and settings. (I’m actually using a new computer I just got today, and everything on the ‘tubes seems a bit different color.)

    And although it’s just nitpicking, the sponsored links are formatted differently than the “real” results, so it is possible to tell them apart. Although certainly the average “Joe” user probably wouldn’t notice.

  3. Angela and Rodney G I’m not seeing it but will keep looking and run a few more tests – I’m running a pretty normal configuration here with XP and a 19″ moderate rez monitor with default browser settings. I checked both FF and IE and could not see shading…

  4. Hey, I’m on a different computer and I can see the shading now, though barely. I’d sure like to see the test results and guess they make literally millions more per day with the “barely shaded” configuration, which misleads users into thinking the listings are “the top listing” rather than “the top advertiser”. I think it’s OK to do this if they fess up and admit it’s a profit mongering rather than a user benefit thing.

  5. Glad Rodney spoke up saying he saw the shading because I thought I’d lost my mind (further). The shading shows up very clearly and easy to distinguish on both of my computers as it always has. If it’s suddenly disappeared or become really faint on some monitors, it does sound like they have changed something that needs to be fixed.

  6. So odd, Joe. Either computer I’m on and whether FF or IE, it’s plain as day yellow. Very curious, indeed. I wonder what exactly they changed that it appears so differently. Some difference is normal, but this sounds extreme if it’s barely there.

  7. Maggie it could be targeted via region or ISP. Google does a LOT of experiments since they have so much money at stake, so maybe this is just a limited test.

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