Change is part of the inherent nature of search. Launched ahead of yet another major algorithm update, Google recently rolled out a design refresh for mobile search results.
In comparison to a core algorithm change, design alterations may seem relatively minor. However, as we will explore in this article, the new design could have a profound impact on both paid and organic search for your business. This revamp is part of a much longer pattern of behavior where Google is smudging the traditional visual boundaries between paid search (PPC and Display ads) and organic search results.
Search design impacts user behavior
In search, design matters as much as—or perhaps more than—the text of the results (officially, “search engine result pages,” or SERPs) themselves. Layout, colors, and other stylistic choices influence our pattern recognition and quickly help “clue” users in to what they are looking at, often at a glance. This visual coding is important throughout all of digital marketing, but it’s especially critical on mobile devices, where users are often quickly scanning search results.
The way things used to be
Throughout the years, Google has readily experimented with how they present paid advertisements alongside organic search results. Way back in the halcyon days of 2007, paid search results showed up with a colored background (first blue, then yellow, green, sky blue, lavender, yellow, and then brown), a green hyperlink, and a “Sponsored Link” disclaimer in the upper-right-hand corner of the ad. In other words, paid results were visually coded in a way that allowed users to easily distinguish them from organic SERPs.
Turning of the tide
Starting around 2013, Google make a relatively radical change and removed the colored background from paid results altogether. Replacing it was a small, gold (now green on desktop) ad indicator to the immediate left of the green hyperlink. Compared to earlier designs, this visual indicator of a paid search result was far easier for users to miss.
When you look at the totality of Google’s search design changes, a clear trend emerges: the search giant is moving toward a point where the paid and organic results more closely resemble one another.