A study conducted by small-scale Internet research company UserTesting has revealed that, overall, users prefer the new version of Google’s search pages to the old one. When it comes to response to adverts, however, they have found no visible difference at all.
The changes in the design of Google’s main search page prompted an anxious response from search engine optimization experts when first announced. It involved the removal of shading underneath the sponsored links at the top of the page and, in its place, the highlighting of these links with small yellow squares labeled Ad. Marketers were sure that this new approach was making the ads more obvious and would make users less likely to click on them.
According to the survey, however, users show no difference in their response to the new and old versions. This could mean that they have been more aware of the nature of the ads all along than marketers bargained for and really do not care that much; alternatively, it could mean that marketers themselves, by virtue of their profession, are more acutely tuned to notice changes than the average user, who concentrates instead on how the link is described. If the reason is the latter, this would not be the first time that marketers have messed up by assuming customers think in the same way that they do.
If customers are noticing the new ads more, which could be the case even in the absence of a negative response, one other caveat applies: it could simply be because they are new. In other words, any negative effect could be expected to fade over time.
The study sampled just 50 people, but it still serves as a useful indicator of public responses and suggests that, even if variations in response do turn out to exist across a wider demographic, they are unlikely to be dramatic. Given this and the flattening effect of time, there is really no reason why advertisers need to panic and start looking for other options. If they are suffering any loss of click-throughs, this effect is likely to be felt across the board and they will be at no significant comparative disadvantage. Clearer data should start to emerge within a few weeks from comparisons of individual businesses’ search engine optimization experiences in different sectors. It seems unlikely, however, that the new page design is causing problems.