Why Google Backtracked on Its New Search Results Look

Jan 31, 2020 · 47 comments
Jeff P (Washington)
A really good, consumer centric search engine would be a nice thing to have. I will be happy to pay for this service to be ad free.
James Blohm (Long Island, New York)
I highly recommend the open source Duck Duck Go web browser, and made it the default browser on my iPhone. If google is needed, navigate to google using Safari, or download Firefox browser.
Wim Roffel (Netherlands)
A monopoly under pressure from its share holders to show forever increasing revenue. What could go wrong?
EJ Werlyklein (Fresno, CA)
If you look at the timeline photo, it still says “Ad” as the first word in the link. In bold no less. This is much more conspicuous than the finely printed word “advertisement” that is hidden in the margins of glossy print magazines. Just look before you click. This is not a big deal.
mt (us)
Google is an advertising company. The new look helps us understand that.
Jason W (New York)
I don't have to worry about clicking on ads, mistakenly or otherwise. I installed the uBlock Origin extension for my browser and my web experience is now ad-free. Most of all, I'm glad I'm hurting Google's business in doing so.
Andrew (OH-US)
@Jason W I honestly cannot understand why so many remain unaware of these tools. I guess if everyone had them, Google would break them or remove them or buy the developer and kill the project. I use a set of three blocker extensions. I've had to continuously add more as the whole situation with ads and trackers has gotten out of control. I cannot care about advertisers - they wrecked the internet, not me.
Alex Vine (Florida)
Google is all about greed. Pure and simple. It's sort of an inherited thing. And painfully obvious.
__ (USA)
All I can say is DuckDuckGo.com. Respect yourself as more than just a commodity from which Google can squeeze money.
Steve (Minneapolis)
@__ Exactly! I've been using DuckDuckGo exclusively for quite a while. I avoid all things Google.
Matthew (NJ)
@__ DuckDuckGo earns revenue by serving ads from the Yahoo-Bing search alliance network and through affiliate relationships with Amazon and eBay. To imagine they are not commodifying you if ridiculous. Of course they are. And how would you know otherwise?
Drew (Bay Area)
@__ And Brave browser, instead of Google Chrome.
DavidH (NYC)
Try and break Googles chain of all your information. First step is to use some other search, I like Duck Duck Go, You can make it the default in any browser including Chrome. You also could deprive Google of information on you by switching a lot of your personal email away from Gmail... Keep your gmail account for spam. You don't have to go cold turkey. Set up a filter to forward email from 'contacts' to another email service. Also ditch Facebook messenger, try Telegram.
Drew (Bay Area)
@DavidH And Brave browser, not Google Chrome.
Aaron (NH)
Dear Google. I've fallen out of love with you. When we first met, you were amazing. You always knew what I wanted and gave me just what I needed. We were an amazing team. I learned so much from you. You were the first person I thought of when I wanted to learn something new. I still want to love you, I really do, but you changed. Over the years you've gone from my best friend to someone trying to control me. It was subtle at first, like how ads became a larger percentage of your first page. Then even the things that weren't ads started to seem like they weren't exactly what I was looking for, but more like friends of yours you wanted me to buy things from. Then you started following me everywhere with ads that would follow me from site to site for weeks, even things I had casually searched for just to learn about. You became obsessed. Crazed. I left you months ago for another browser and search engine. You still followed me around though with all those trackers everywhere. I had to subscribe to a third party VPN just to get away from you. Even with all that, you still track me down by measuring my browser settings. I know your still watching me. I love you, you're just suffocating me. You can do better and should do better, for me and all our friends. I'd do it for you.
NYC Traveler (West Village)
A graphic example of the differences between the searches, before and after the change, would have been very helpful to this story.
Nadia (San Francisco)
I'm a zero percent fan of google. I have actually had to demonstrate to people that the first maybe even 3 results are ads. The prominent placement of these ads are not enough to call to the attention of most people that, despite the tiny "ad" square. People using google to find information don't usually pay enough attention to discern if something is an ad. What's even worse is amazon! You have to scroll past tons of "sponsored results" and "recommendations" and amazon product placement suggestions just to get to any information about whatever you were actually searching for. Useless. (ps-every time I google "New York Times" the first result - sometimes the first two - is an ADVERTISEMENT)
MedEthix (NYC)
“Don’t be evil” should be changed to “Don’t get caught being evil”. That’s why I don’t use Google products.
mt (us)
Google is an advertising company. The new look helps us finally understand that.
Heather T. (OR)
I've just discovered that if you set Chrome Tools-->All Results-->Verbatim, you can avoid the ad overlay that will take you to somebody's website no matter what result you click on. But man, that was low indeed, to have implemented that.
Karl (Chico, CA)
Why can't people use DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo, or another search engine instead of Google, rather than complaining that Google is doing something wrong? No one is forcing anyone to use Google! I use DuckDuckGo and it works perfectly
Kelly Monaghan (Branford, CT)
@Karl You beat me to it. DuckDuckGo is the simple solution.
Suzanne Wheat (North Carolina)
I don't have the greatest eyesight and it's been difficult for me to separate ad content and actual content. So far I have not clicked on an ad. When I happen to see an ad for something I'm interested in, I use the search browser to get to it.
Andrew (OH-US)
@Suzanne Wheat @Suzanne Wheat Unacceptable. They need to provide an accessible experience for you and you should make some complaints about this
Chris (Michigan)
It may just be me, but I find that the first “victim” of these web ads mentioned was the CEO of a search engine optimization consultancy firm. Maybe his clients need a different consultant.
kpanza (Woodstock, NY)
It's been clear something went wrong with Google. Recently, I've gotten search results with only one reference that wasn't an ad, and that, in itself, was a page filled with ads. It's much harder now and it takes many more searches to find what I'm looking for. Now I understand why.
polymath (British Columbia)
Yelp does something similar, which I also hate. The ads always appears before the actual search results, but they are labeled as ads only very modestly.
Andrew Goodman (Fredericton, NB)
@polymath How do you suppose they make money?
Nadia (San Francisco)
@polymath I know! Super annoying. You get to reviews and suddenly realize you aren't even reading about the place you were looking up! Grrrr.
Brian H (New Jersey)
On my mobile (iPhone) using the Firefox browser, I get nothing but ads when I do certain Google searches (ones that might have a product tie-in). No unpaid links visible. Been seeing this behavior for a couple of months.
Andrew Goodman (Fredericton, NB)
@Brian H In our industry, we call the "might have a product tie-in": queries with commercial intent. Google is constantly testing layouts and the proportion of paid vs. unpaid information on the SERP... and finding the appropriate mix. That the proportion of paid ads has increased apparently surprises a lot of people, but there is a lot of ignorance going around.
GAP (California)
I just cannot understand why anyone in this day and age would choose to use a browser without an ad blocker (and real privacy settings)... There are multiple alternatives, and they are all a cinch to install. Exercise your choice!
Jeanne (Nice)
@GAP Even with an ad-blocker you will still see Google ads on their results page because they pay the ad-blocking companies millions to whitelist them. Small website owners depend on ads to finance their sites but cannot afford those huge fees. Oh, and what is the business model for ad-blocking companies? Nothing is free. What are they doing with the data they collect?
MJ R. (Philadelphia)
@Jeanne Use uBlock Origin. It doesn't have whitelists, and is open source - meaning you know exactly what is being done with the data.
GAP (California)
@Jeanne: reasonable concerns. Any such issues would depend on the blocker used. I use only open-source software, and I donate to the organizations that provide them. No worry about business models. My setup (more info about each in Wikipedia): Browser: Firefox Ad blocker: uBlock Origin Encryption: HTTPS Everywhere Privacy: Privacy Badger Search: DuckDuckGo I browse with few concerns about ads and privacy, and gladly donate for that peace of mind. Next: erasing all traces of Facebook. See NYT article about their extensive, and hidden, privacy intrusions.
Jaleh (Aspen)
I made a mistake by clicking on an ad to get help with my Apple computer. When the guy said "you have to pay $500" to get it fixed, I realized I was not talking to Apple. It was a strange experience since I had never done that!
CF (Iowa)
Absolute evil design to mislead the consumer. A corporation, any corporation, can never make enough money so deceptive practices are an easy no-brainer for all profit-driven organizations. The only recourse is via consumer choice as regulation means nothing to corporations beyond a line item in the budget for political donations and once in lifetime the possibility of a fine that has no impact on the bottom line. Pure GOP.
Andrew Goodman (Fredericton, NB)
@CF On the contrary, this is just one form of advertising in a long history of advertising-supported media business models. It happens to be highly effective.
Bri (Columbus Ohio)
I use(d) the Google search engine and Google Chrome for many years, although, I am the proud owner of a small business, and I pay Google advertisement per click. Right away when google changed their looks, I could tell the difference. Two things happened. Google forced me to ad-pages, I didn't want to see or open, and within two days, I got rid of Google Chrome and started using a different search engine instead. I got fewer contact forms through my webpage, and when I looked up my Google campaign, I could see that my webpage indeed got fewer clicks than ever before. My money, my time -none of it should be wasted. I stopped the Google campaign right away and looked into other advertisement peer clicks. I have a feeling I might not be the only one. If many users react the way I did, it will cost them in the long rung -as it should.
Albert (New York)
Finally switched over to DuckDuckGo this year on all my desktop computers and mobile devices. It's great! No complaints and none of the compromises Google forces on you.
c harris (Candler, NC)
Putting ads anywhere near genuine search sites is wrong. They should be kept in another place and well marked. The internet was a space for the public. Google made it easier to navigate. Why have they taken to try to fool people using their search engine? They already are hugely profitable with vast corporate influence.
Nadia (San Francisco)
@c harris In the goof ol' days, when the general public was first introduced to the internet, there was no google or amazon or facebook. "Good" is an understatement. There should not be ANY ads on search results. And on web sites...why? So search engines can make money from our curiosity and quest for knowledge? There weren't any in the fantastic & fabulously good ol' days. You want to know how to conduct ad-free searches? It's called a LIBRARY. (Full disclosure: I work in one, but it's still a true fact about ad-free & unbiased searching.)
On the desktop, you used to be able to scroll down past the ads. Now, Google puts ads at both the top and the bottom of the pages to try to counter that. Insidious.
Andrew Goodman (Fredericton, NB)
@MJB Yet another piece of wild speculation. Actually, the ads at the top and bottom came in concert with a change to remove a large number of distracting ads from the right rail. Broadly speaking this led to advertisers bidding on fewer viable ad positions (usually 3 or 4 instead of 8+), which affects how the auction works (a bit more "go big or go home.") Actually *less distracting* for users, while of course not harming Google's bottom line. Mostly it was brought about to bring the look of the page into line with more readable conventions in a mobile environment. The ads at the bottom are rarely clicked or viewed and are a minor part of the equation.
Karl (Chico, CA)
@MJB there have been ads at the bottom for many many years, and other search engines do the same. That is nothing new
Jeanne (Nice)
That "hodgepodge of fact boxes, news links, ads and snippets of text" is designed to keep the user on Google's search result page rather than send users to the web pages that were the source of the information. In effect, Google is appropriating the information researched and compiled by others in order to keep users on the Google page and possibly clicking on an ad. Website owners depend on clicks to their sites for ad revenue. When they are deprived of that click because the user gets their answer in a series of "People also ask" boxes, it is money out of their pockets and into Google's.
Andy Jay (Denver)
Very simple solutions for those who value their privacy and appreciate transparency. DuckDuckGo for searches, blocks trackers and ads are clearly labeled. Mozilla Firefox for browsing, real privacy settings and easy to use.
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