Google on Friday responded to criticism that recent changes to its search results have blurred the lines between ads and regular results, saying it will be experimenting with different designs.
As a part of a mid-January redesign to desktop search results, the company made paid links look more like unpaid results. The word “Ad” in bold text appears next to the advertisements, which typically are listed first and are therefore more likely to be clicked on and generate ad revenue for Google.
Ad search results have gone through several design changes over the years; for example, Google previously used yellow and green “Ad” boxes to differentiate search ads from organic search results. The latest redesign was an attempt to clarify sources of information, the company said last week.
But asked to respond to feedback on the changes, Google said it might move away from this latest design.
“We’re dedicated to improving the desktop experience for Search, and as part of our efforts we rolled out a new design last week, mirroring the design that we’ve had for many months on mobile,” a Google spokeswoman said in an email. “We are experimenting with a change to the current desktop favicons, and will continue to iterate on the design over time.”
Google said the icons that now display a small brand image or the word “Ad” may not appear in new iterations but that the company will still label ads. The company said within the last year it has made more than 3,000 changes to search. Google said its goal is to create a better search experience for users and that they should expect the design to evolve over time.
The company also said it has business incentives to make sure users are satisfied with ads. It said when a user clicks on a Google Search Ad, the company wants it to be because the ad looked relevant and useful, not because it was confusing.
Before Google said it would be experimenting on the new design change, experts told CNBC that while the redesign improves user experience, the latest iteration may be a response to a business need.
“We can talk all day long about user experience and results, but the elephant in the room is that Google is an ad business too, and there’s a big profit consideration to how they alter the search landscape,” said Heather Rist Murphy, vice president of performance content at digital marketing agency Nina Hale.
“In the last two years, on the organic side, the company has played around with the model, and at the end of the day, they are going to add to their bottom line,” Murphy said.