Google Ads Are Now Included in Organic Search Results

3 min read

Google has been discreetly blending ads with organic search results for almost a year. Recently, they made this practice official by updating their documentation.

Google is incentivized to encourage users to click its sponsored ads, but this should not come at the expense of user experience.

In recent years, Google’s approach to search has shifted, often to the detriment of users. Traditionally, search engine users expected ads to appear at the top or bottom of the SERP, with organic results occupying the central space, sometimes interspersed with search features. However, this structure has changed.

A recent update to Google’s documentation states that:

“Top ads may show below the top organic results on certain queries.” This highlights how the placement of top ads is now dynamic and subject to change.

This article explores this change and its impact on users and organic search results.


Timeline Of Changes


Leading up to the change, Google had been testing mixing sponsored ads within organic listings in various capacities over ten months.

Here is a timeline of the changes leading up to the official launch.


June 17th, 2023: Initial Testing

This was the first time the test appeared in Google’s search results, only on mobile devices. During this initial testing period, it was displayed to very few users, with the ads discreetly included on mobile and easily mistaken for organic listings.


October 23rd, 2023: Heavier Testing

During this period, the broader SEO community noticed the ad labels appearing within organic listings. These ads were now visible across both mobile and desktop. This testing phase was more prolonged as Google prepared for the launch.


March 28th, 2024: Launch

On this date, Google’s Ads Liaison announced that the change would be permanent, adding a new definition to the “top ads” documentation. From this point forward, users could expect ads to be mixed in with organic results beyond limited testing.


Different Types Of Placements


Now that Google has been mixing sponsored ads within organic results for almost two months, we can better understand the extent of this change and how the ads appear. Based on my research, there are two everyday situations where Google presents ads within organic listings.


Mixed With Organic Results

The standard approach involves placing ads within the top organic results. Typically, one or two ads are grouped together in this scenario, although it’s rare to see as many as four ads in a row.


Directly Below Featured Snippets

The most common method of mixing ads with organic listings is placing them directly below a featured snippet. In these cases, it’s common to see up to four ads appear below the featured snippet, often two ads in this position. Previously, ads were always placed directly above the featured snippet. This arrangement could have been perceived as a poor user experience, especially since featured snippets are designed to provide quick answers with a short page description.



What Are Google’s Intentions?


Each of the situations explained in the previous section could be interpreted differently.

The first situation, with ads mixed within organic results, clearly indicates Google’s intention to encourage more clicks on ads and to desensitize users to ads appearing at the top, making them more likely to mistake ads for organic listings.

In contrast, the second situation, where ads are placed below featured snippets, can be perceived differently. While ads still appear in the viewport on the desktop, the answer to the user’s query is prominently shown at the top of search resultswithout ads obstructing it.

This isn’t a negative change for users or SEO, as it makes the organic listing more visible. While Google does need to prioritize ad revenue with changes to ad placement, there are arguments for both sides. The outcome is neutral.

Ads mixed with organic results are rare, but placements below featured snippets are more common and offer clear benefits.


Final Thoughts


Based on how Google currently operates, I’m not particularly concerned about this ad placement change. Although the change is officially documented, it still functions more like a test, with ads appearing in their usual positions in most instances.

From my research, I believe this change should be perceived as neutral for Google users and SEO. If you encounter ads mixed with organic listings, stay alert.

I will continue monitoring this change to ensure Google’s ad placements remain reasonable.

Recently, Google has reverted to using the “ad” label instead of “sponsored” on mobile, a treatment used in previous years. We can expect these tests to continue, keeping our industry dynamic. If you need clarification, check out our monthly SEO packages and let the experts help you.

Shilpi Mathur
[email protected]