Google AdWords: Are Changes In The Format Afoot?

    April 21, 2005

Recently, there have been rumblings about upcoming changes in the AdWords presentation format. There are reports and examples of structural alterations in AdWords placements, as well as upcoming changes in the way people view Google’s advertisements.

AdWords Alterations
Google Tests New AdWords/AdSense Formats

Have you noticed any changes to the AdWords/AdSense layouts? If so, what are your thoughts? Are they unnecessary or do they actually benefit the user? Discuss at WebProWorld.

However, should Google be messing with what works? Later today, Google is expected to release financial results for 1st quarter of 2005, and indications are these numbers will be quite pleasing to Google employees and stockholders alike. Because of their continuing financial success, should Google be altering the format and presentation of their advertising program/cash cow?

To answer this question thoroughly, there are a couple of perspectives to consider.

First, however, it would be prudent to discuss these changes before analyzing why they were made. The first format alteration I’ve seen mentioned has to do with adding more sponsors to the top of Google SERPs. Currently, most keyword-related searches generate one or two top spot listings per search. However, a few days ago, a number of people saw three sponsored listings in the top area and decided to share their discovery on the SearchEngineWatch forums.

The reactions to such a small, but very noticeable change were not very positive. One poster mentioned how this could convolute Google’s search results pages, making them unattractive for users. The posters also mentioned how changes like this could make Google vulnerable to losing traffic to other search engines offering less conspicuous search result advertising.

These worries were quickly soothed, though. AdWordsRep, a noted Google insider who frequents a number of forums arrived to give an explanation of what others were seeing by saying:

AdWords tends to test stuff from time to time, and you’re seeing one such test.

Probably only a few folks will see it, and then not for long. It’s not a permanent change.

He (or she, I don’t think it’s been confirmed) also indicated tests like these were not done just to test new ways of generating revenue. Changes to existing formats are also done to gauge user reaction, which is relayed to Google’s advertising department by people like AWR.

The other change has to with a discovery made by Darren Rowse of Instead of affecting AdWords and ad positioning, this alteration affects the appearance of Google’s AdSense program.

According to Darren’s Adsense Developing Fully Customizable Ads Blocks? blog entry, he noticed AdSense ads with different formats on the sites and, of which he provides a screenshot. By looking at the image, it’s easy to determine they do in fact deviate from the normal AdSense ads in a couple of ways:

The overall size of the ad block is bigger and there are more ads within an AdSense spot than normal. This led Darren on a fact finding mission, which he determined the following:

Google Adsense are testing new ad formats that allow publishers to have greater control over how many ads are shown and what the overall size of the ad block is.

As Darren correctly notes, these format changes give web publishers more freedom over what AdSense ads they display, something many would welcome in my estimation. Giving site owners the ability to pick and choose the type, style, and appearance of AdSense ads is bound to be attractive to those who like to control everything their site displays (which, I imagine is quite a few of you).

Although, during Darren’s testing procedures, he noticed these options were being offered to non-premium blogs and websites. Evidently, before the format options were available, the only ones that could control their AdSense output were premium sites that drew large numbers of visitors.

If this is indeed the case, it’s nice to see Google give the little guys a say as well.

It appears as if Google is conducting these alterations to merely test user reaction and ad functionality. Concerning AdSense, it is nice to have control over what appears on your site. As long as ads like these continue to generate revenue for the client, I don’t see the harm. However, AdWords changes affecting the appearance of Google SERPs seem to be frowned upon. Most search engine users do not want a lot of (any?) ads that can distract users from organic listings.

But, isn’t that purpose of AdWords in the first place: a vehicle designed to attract targeted clicks from users viewing search results pages? Which will, in turn, generate revenue for Google?

Chris Richardson is a search engine writer and editor for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest search news.