Last month, with the help of Dr Pete Meyers from Moz, we looked at how PPC ads are changing and what they will look like next year. 

Some of these predictions have already happened, such as the yellow 'ad' labels and less obvious background shading. 

One of the themes of that article was Google's efforts to make ads blend in more on results pages, something Dr Meyers referred to as 'ads in sheep's clothing'.  

This is now happening in Google's UK results, with the top PPC ads on some brand searches resembling results more than ads. 

For example, a search for 'Schuh' brings up this huge PPC ad: 

This one, for Disney, dominates the page thanks to images and expanded site links. 

What are the effects? 

Well, the most obvious is that these links are likely to attract more clicks than 'standard' PPC ads as they look less like ads, and more closely resemble Google search listings and expanded site links. 

This is obviously welcome news for Google, as this means more ad income, but what's in it for the advertisers? 

Well, you might think that this budget is wasted on branded searches, as they would rank top for those anyway, and are essentially paying for clicks that would otherwise have been free. 

However, these ads allow the brands in question to dominate their own search results, pushing those leading elsewhere further down the page, and perhaps ensuring that more clicks go to them. 

For example, if we look below the fold for the Disney search shown above, these are the results that would show if there were no PPC ads present:

Of the results pushed below the fold, most will go to an alternative website, some, such as eBay, where people can find the products from alternative retailers. 

Does this justify the extra PPC spend on branded search? That's the question...

Graham Charlton

Published 2 December, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (8)

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Lenka Istvanova

Lenka Istvanova, Consultant at Seven League

I've noticed it too, Graham. Ant to be honest I think Google just want us to spend more on advertising. They've revamped their AdWords interface which now offers more advice (e.g. Opportunities) so it's easier for anyone to run (and pay Google) PPC advertising.

over 4 years ago

Edward Longley

Edward Longley, Digital professional at Freelance

It's just another nail in the coffin of SEO as as know it and, in some cases, love it.

There's nothing in it for Google to maintain SEO - quite the opposite. It's an entire industry combating unethical SEO optimisation tactics, and if Google can make it sufficiently worthless to invest time in black-hat and grey-hat SEO tactics, then it could be viewed as a positive thing for all of us,

Imagine a world of real content created by real people for real business objectives. Happy days.

I've been predicting the death of SEO for several years, and this is further proof in my mind that it's had its time. SEO should be nothing more nor less than good site design, good content and good accessibility.

Smaller brands with less competition will still be able to rank for their brand terms on SEO, where there's less likelihood of others brand bidding on them, or optimising for their brand terms.

For the bigger brands, if it costs a couple of pence per brand click, that's value for money for a better web IMHO.

over 4 years ago


Shaun Russell

Is it really true that these are less obviously adverts?

I'd imagine that a significant proportion of internet users aren't aware that shading denotes adverts. The ads label has become significantly more prominent, and is is likely to have a larger effect than shading... which anything probably made some less web savvy users more likely to click on the ads.

over 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@Shaun I agree that, for many shading doesn't necessarily mean adverts, but it did serve to show these listings as different from the rest.

The real way in which Google is making ads seem less obvious is by adding the images and site links in PPC ads.

To take the Disney example above, the casual searcher may well see that the top link is an ad, but I'll bet that many won't realise that the links underneath the line highlighted are paid ads.

over 4 years ago

Neale Gilhooley

Neale Gilhooley, MD at Evolution Design Ltd

Not sure why Schuh are bidding for their own name when they dominate the organic results and the Google Maps results.

over 4 years ago

Kevin Alderson

Kevin Alderson, Online Marketing Manager at Sage (UK) Ltd

Neale - one of the core reasons for bidding on the brand terms in this way is the flexibility allowed by sitelinks; pushing tactical offers, the latest lines or directing potential customers to a variation of top performing landing pages are all aspects which either take a serious amount of time and effort in SEO terms or aren't achievable due to timescales (short sales promotions etc).

over 4 years ago


John McElborough, MD at Inbound360

Dropping the yellow background on ads is a huge change as its become a convention which most users have either consciously or subconsciously gotten used to. Good news for us advertisers to be honest but its sure to raise more questions about ad clarity.

over 4 years ago


Anthony Sharot

John I agree. Like many here, I have done SEO and PPC for years and they now look very similar, particularly on low contrast monitors. It looks like Google was being reprimanded for fading the shade of their backgrounds and so decided to remove it completely!

over 4 years ago

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