January 30, 2020

Google’s Latest Search Results Blur Paid & Organic Lines

Photo showing Google sign from the side

Roughly eight months after mobile search results in Google underwent a significant facelift, desktop results followed suit. Well, sort of. Less than two weeks from its January 13 rollout, Google has paused its long-term plans in order to test variations of these desktop views (including reverting them back altogether) due to some negative public reactions.

What Are the Changes?

At the time of this writing, for paid search results, the “Ad” label changed from green text with a border around it to bold, black text. For organic results, a visual icon was placed in the same spot the “Ad” label is for paid results. For both results, the URL was moved above the headline. However, Google due to negative feedback on the proposed changes, and the company has stated it will continue to tweak “Ad” label positioning.

Google Ads Before and After

A recent iteration of Google’s label position change.

What Are the Implications for Pharma Marketers?

Some have argued these changes make it harder to differentiate between paid and organic results; third-party data after the mobile rollout suggests this claim holds water. After reviewing a handful of sites Intouch supports, desktop appears to have a similar impact. For the five sites we reviewed when comparing the week of January 20 (after the update but before Google started testing variations) to the week of January 6 (before the update), desktop paid search campaigns had a relative increase of 11% click-through-rate on average when compared to mobile.

While that is too small of a sample size to be definitive, it’s reasonable to conclude this update could give paid search a slight boost at the expense of organic. However, now that Google is testing multiple versions, we won’t know the implications until we learn which version it settles on.

It’s reasonable to conclude this update could give paid search a slight boost at the expense of organic.

What Else Can We Learn From This?

  • Branding is increasingly important – Between limiting URL visibility and making branded icons more prominent, your brand is becoming even more front-and-center in the search results. Now more than ever, brand affinity is a key differentiator in standing out in search.
  • Customization and consistency is a balance – Customization and consistency can be at odds with each other when it comes to desktop and mobile views, and finding the right balance is key. In this case, the same changes to desktop caused such an uproar, Google had to walk them back. Yet, mobile continues to be redesigned this way.
  • Always stay flexible – In 2018, Google ran over 600,000 tests on its search platform. With that, it’s reasonable to assume Google tested this desktop revamp as well. However, even with the most meticulous planning and thorough testing, things didn’t go as planned. This is a good reminder for all of us as pharma marketers to keep our options open and plan for optimization.

 Tylor Hermanson is Group Director, SEO at Intouch.