Google Results: Ad or Organic Content?

Did I just click on an ad?

Sometimes, I want to prove a point. I'm in the middle of an argument with a friend and Google is the ultimate decider of who is right or who is wrong. Each armed with our phones, we formulate a query that Google gladly completes, and then we click on that first result.

I despise ads. Even though this little blog is getting traffic to the point that I can make a little money with it, I still rather not have ads on it. But ads exist for a reason. They generate revenue to the point that most of the web is free. Even though I don't like ads, I still think there is a place for them. The place for them is google search. But that is if I can tell which results are ads and which aren't.

Lately, I've been clicking a lot on that first result only to realize that I am reading an ad.

When you search for a product, it means you are interested in said product. Google serving you an ad at that very moment is not intrusive. The reason is, well because you were searching for it. But something changed along the way, and we hardly noticed it. All of the sudden, when I search for a product on Google, I have a hard time knowing if what I am clicking on is an ad.

Google used to highlight their ads in yellow background that makes it easy to identify which results are ads, and which aren't. But today, they decided it is no longer necessary to make a difference between a link to a website, and an advertisement. See for your self:

Google search ad evolution

The only indicator that the first result is an ad, is a small 11px sized text: Ad. It's deceiving.

Google having ads on their search results does not bother me. Disguising the ad as regular content is what I find deceiving. The bad news is that, this sneaky tactic probably increased their revenue by many folds. So we are not going back to the old days.

The good news is, you can still highlight ads on search results. You can turn their background yellow by finding the CSS rule that target that specific element and changing it. Doing so manually every time is a slow process, but you can create a simple browser extension that does the job for you.

I built that small extension and named it GadLight (Google ad highlighter).

gadlight search result

It's a simple browser extension that does one thing and one thing only. On google search results, GadLight changes the background of ad results to yellow. That's it.

When we type a search query, Google knows that we are most likely to click on the first result. Most of the times the ad is relevant, but not being able to make a difference between sponsored and non-sponsored content results in an unintentional click. However, a yellow background color makes it easy to spot ads, without having to hunt for that tiny 11px word.

GadLight is available for Chrome and Firefox, and should also work on Edge. You can view the source code on github.


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For my eyes only