The future’s bright, the future’s… green? The results are in on Google’s ad label colour change

Jun 30th, 2016

Two months on from the change to green ad labels as an experiment, Google announced this week that a permanent change would be rolled out globally and imminently – but why, and how is it affecting the ads themselves?

As mentioned in a previous post on the path to purchase, Google has been busy this year insofar as the appearance of SERPs – the latest is the change from a yellow to green ad label. It might seem a simple thing, maybe even arbitrary, but companies don’t grow to the size Google has without a great deal of thought behind every decision. While they clearly believe that ads should be marked as ads, the consternation in the paid search community caused by the initial introduction of the yellow label (which, for some agencies, reportedly led to a reduction in CTR of around 10-15%), was – though Google was unlikely to lose much ground to competitors – clearly enough for the ad label to remain a work in progress.

android chain

The reasons for both colours being involved in the selection process could be easily left at: ‘both are Google branded colours’, but it would be a surprise if this were the entire case. Though the science is often sketchy around the psychology of colour (with much eventually attributable to personal preference), examples of branded colours becoming synonymous with the feel of a brand are commonplace – for example, the mix of prime colours selected by Google reflected the almost child-like playfulness that the brand wished to portray – it was a company which was dynamic, youthful and growing.

For this reason, perhaps – with yellow’s commonly assumed positive attributes as reflective of optimism, energy and warmth – it may have been that the colour was deemed positive enough overall for it to be given a run out. However, yellow is commonly also a warning colour and this is not something you want associated with advertisements if you desire positive engagement. In fact, 13% of people report yellow as their least favourite colour.

Colour wheel

With this in mind, and the growing experience of searchers with regards to advertising in SERPs, it is reasonable to expect that Google would wish to look to help ads blend a little more with the rest of the results (a factor that may well have contributed to the removal of right hand ads as much as the unification of mobile and desktop search). With red, another warning colour, easy to rule out, the branded colours left to Google were therefore blue (a safe colour with the largest percentage of surveyed people declaring it their favourite) and green (the second favourite in the majority of surveys).

So, why choose green? While blue and green are both associated with calm, green carries a more energetic set of assumed attributes – growth, health, nature and an inferred mood of refreshment. Of the two therefore, it seems a fairly secure bet.



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So – we could expect the label colour change to have had a big influence on CTR, right? Well, in actual fact the results we’ve witnessed here at Click, and with a little research we have seen reported elsewhere, have been substantially positive.

Click Consult client account CTRs for Google SERPs

google ctr

Though our own lift in performance came earlier than most others that are reporting on the change (more in line with the removal of right hand ads in mid-February), 26 of the 30 days with the best CTR (and 8/10) have occurred since the April shift to green, while all three months since the switch feature in the top five best performing months over the date range tested.

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While correlation is not necessarily causation, and agencies are always looking to improve their clients’ performance, the increases reported from various agencies (see this from Wordstream for example) would suggest that the link may well be at least partially causal – especially when compared with CTRs on non-ad marking Google search partners which have continued to show standard seasonal fluctuations:

Click Consult client account CTRs for Google Search Partners

search partner ctr

This comparison, acting as a control, shows at least that consumers haven’t suddenly become far more keen to click through on ads – even ads which aren’t clearly labelled as such. It is reasonably safe to assume, therefore, that the uplift in CTR for ads featured in Google SERPs must in some way be related to the recent changes, while the level of sustained improvement since the change in ad label colour would mark this change as the most likely cause.

Whether or not this has been down to a specific facet of the change – the better blending of the new label or the psychological influence of the colour itself is, of course, difficult to gauge, however it is more than likely a combination of all of the factors mentioned. With further good news reported by a number of agencies who have spotted an immediate reduction in invalid clicks, there will be few people disappointed to see an end to the yellow labels.

Need to know more? Check out our blogs and other resources for a wealth of information on all aspects of paid and organic search. Or contact us today to see what we can do to help you reach your PPC potential.

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