Google Ads are mixed in with organic results

Google Ads are mixed in with organic results

4 minutes

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Google has an incentive to encourage users to click on its sponsored ads, but this should not come at the expense of user experience.

In recent years, this aspect of Search seems to have deteriorated, with Google engaging in practices that negatively affect users.

Traditionally, search engine users are used to seeing ads either at the top or bottom of the search results page (SERP), with the page itself containing either purely organic results or organic results interspersed with ads. Various search features are also often integrated into these pages.

This situation has now changed.

Recently, a change was made to Google’s documentation stating:

“Top ads may appear below the top organic results for certain queries.”

Detailing that the placement of top ads is dynamic and subject to change.

Before the changes

Google conducted tests over a 10-month period, including mixing sponsored ads among organic listings. Here’s the timeline of changes leading up to the official launch.

July 2023: Initial Testing

This was the first time the test appeared in Google’s search results, displaying only on mobile devices. During this initial testing period, it was visible to a very limited number of users, with even more restricted inclusion on mobile, easily perceived by users as an organic listing.

October 2023: Enhanced Testing

During this testing period, representatives from the broader SEO community began noticing ad labels appearing within organic listings, visible on both mobile and desktop devices. This testing period lasted longer before the official launch.

March 2024: Commencement of Operations

On this day, a Google Ads representative announced that the change would be permanent, with a new definition added to the “top ads” documentation. From this date onward, users were expected to anticipate an official change where ads would be blended with organic results beyond limited testing.

Types of Placement

Now that Google has been including sponsored ads in organic results for almost two months, we can better understand the extent of the changes and how the ads are being displayed.

1. Mixed with Organic Results

This is the standard approach, where ads are seamlessly integrated into the top organic search results. Based on my experience, it’s typical to see one or two ads placed together in this manner. It’s rare to see a maximum of four ads in a row. Here’s an example:

      In this example, the sponsored ad technically appears in the second position on the page. Normally, the ad would have appeared above my page, but in this instance, it is below. For the Semrush page, the visibility on the SERP would remain unchanged if the ad were above, but for my page, it has an advantage in terms of ranking visibility.

      2. Directly Below Featured Snippets

        The most common way ads are mixed in with organic listings is by placing them directly below a featured snippet. In cases like this, there is often a full set of four ads appearing below the featured snippet. In this example, two ads are displayed.

        In the past, and still having the ability to show right now, ads would always be placed directly above the featured snippet. This could have been perceived as a poor user experience, considering featured snippets tend to show when an answer to a query can be explained with a short description from the page.

        Google’s intentions in these changes can be interpreted differently for each scenario

        In the first scenario (mixed with organic results), Google’s intentions seem quite obvious: to incentivize users to click more on ads and desensitize them to ads appearing at the top, potentially confusing users by blending ads with organic listings.

        In contrast, the second scenario with featured snippets may be perceived differently. While ads continue to appear prominently on desktop, the user’s query answer is displayed high in search results without obstruction from ads. There’s nothing inherently negative for users or SEO in this, as Google makes organic listings more prominent in these cases.

        Overall, it’s important to consider Google’s need to prioritize ad revenue with changes in ad placement. While arguments can be made from both sides with this change, my perception is that the outcome is fairly neutral for both parties.

        Ads mixed with organic results are still very rare, but featured snippets are a more common use case, and there are some clear advantages to this.

        This article available in Ukrainian.

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