My seemingly unending curiosity for Google’s minute changes has once again been piqued. I’m largely confident that my long-suffering colleagues are now getting a sore head from my constant bleating about colour changes, thicker lines, and auto-complete scandals; and so I’ve done what any conscientious person would do: I’ve stopped bothering them and have decided to bother our blog readers with it instead.
Did you notice: Google adverts are now green? Green. I know, I’m as intrigued as you are – I can practically hear you screaming at me through your computer screens: ‘But, Chloe, what does it mean?!’ Patience, I’ll ruminate on it for you and outlay my thoughts here.
I don’t want to say I told you so. Wait, I mistyped. I do want to say I told you so. In my recent blog post about Google’s black links, I prophesied that “[l]inks will return to blue, and Google will return to its highly successful, much more subtle tactics to get us to click […] right where they want us to.” A tactic such as, say, making paid Google adverts look more like organic search results, maybe?
I want to take the tinfoil hat off. I really do. But, as much as Google’s official statement makes this all sound very innocent: “Our goal is to make our results page easy to use, and our labeling clear and prominent,” I can’t help but slide them a side-eye over the fact that the new Google adverts’ label colour exactly matches the link colour for organic search results. I can’t quite comprehend how this makes the labelling “clearer” when in fact it makes the adverts blend into the organic search results, almost surreptitiously.
Prior to this change, Google adverts were indicated by a gold sign, placed on the left of the result, saying ‘Ad’.
Google is notorious for continuously split testing colours, and those in the SEO and Tech industries have been noting some A/B testing recently regarding this ‘Ad’ badge colour. The tests seem to have been successful, as now Google are rolling out their new colour – green:
The sign to indicate that you are seeing an advert is now far less prominent. I’ve noted recently, that those in the world of SEO and the like are hyper-aware of these changes. We know where the Google adverts are, we know how many, we pay attention to how many links we see before the fold, and we obsessively take note of this every time. I mentioned to someone outside of this industry that Google had changed their ad sign colour. The response: “What ads? What colour?”
It’s easy to forget that not everyone is as compulsively aware of this as we are. This small change in colour may make no difference to the view of someone in SEO – we’re paying attention regardless. However, to someone who just wants to use Google to find a quick search result (what madness is this?) the necessary extra thought-process to differentiate the Google adverts from the organic results is now that little bit harder, that little bit more cumbersome, that little bit less likely.
What Does This Mean for SEO?
I’ve been discussing this from a user point of view. However, what really matters here is what it means for our industry. Ultimately, only time will tell. However, informed predictions can be made. PPC (Pay-Per-Click, or, those green ads I’ve been yammering on about) is now even more threatening than ever to SEO. We’re already competing with those brands that have paid to be the top result. We’re relying on users to want to skip past artificial top results in order to find the real, genuinely most relevant and organic, top results below. If it’s harder to differentiate – if that gold sticker isn’t eye-catchingly obvious anymore – we’re having to put even more faith in the user to scroll past them. That’s an extra level of cognition we’re asking them to instigate. The faith we’re now having to put into the average searcher has now jumped, and we can’t influence it.
For SEO to continue to be the premium method of getting your website found, we need to branch out our tactics just a little bit. Long-tail SEO has long been an important tactic. I believe it’s now gone past the point of important; long-tail SEO is now vital. Long-tail SEO refers to the times when a search engine user types out a longer, much more specific, phrase. Instead of searching ‘shoes’, they are searching ‘size 8 women’s shoes in leopard print’. For many reasons, it’s a really wonderful thing to optimise your site for these sorts of searches. Now, it’s more important than ever. Why? Because no one in their right mind will pay for to advertise for that very specific, fairly obscure, long-tail search.
Long-tail searches are far more targeted, therefore, they are far more likely to convert. The traffic you are bringing to your website has a much higher buying intent. Your website is being inherently useful because it is providing the answer to a very specific query. A paid Google advert is incredibly unlikely to do that. A user searching long tail is likely willing to put the time in to scroll down. That is where your website, your hired SEO team’s efforts, and ultimately your products or services, will now shine.
Is Google in it just to hurt us? Presumably not. However, the more they take money to promote certain searches over others, and the more innocuous they make this for the user, the more we need to strive to tailor our websites and our tactics to be inherently beneficial to those users who really do want to find the website that has the best fit, rather than the website who can pay to seem like they are.
Do you agree with my assessment of this change by Google? Am I over-thinking something as simple as a colour change? Is there a better tactic than long-tail SEO to tackle it? Let us know if you think so. Don’t forget to follow Active Internet Marketing’s Twitter too, for more blog posts on everything going on in the SEO world.