From 2000 to 2017: A Comprehensive Google AdWords Timeline

From 2000 to 2017: A Comprehensive Google AdWords Timeline

We know many people don’t click on the paid ads as they don’t trust them – Could it be that Google is trying to increase clicks on the ads by making them look more like the organic listings? Certainly the green ad label doesn’t stand out and contrast as much as the yellow label it has replaced.

So, with the latest AdWords change now live, we’ve dug deep and put together a hefty timeline of Google AdWords over the years.

It’s fascinating seeing how the interface and nature of the ads have changed over Google’s history, from colourful and clearly labelled in the early days, to almost identical to organic listings in 2017.

Depending on your stance AdWords either represents 17 years (and counting) of innovation from Google, or 17 years of them trying to get more money by making ads increasingly easy for the advertiser to create and for users click.

Some of the search terms in the images are a bit risqué, which we apologise for. We didn’t do the original searches so these are out of our control!

The History of Google AdWords

2017

FEBRUARY 2017: REMOVAL OF SOLID GREEN BACKGROUND

New google ads style Google has introduced a new style to their ads. By removing the solid green background, they have reduced the overall visibility of ads, making it harder to tell apart organic results and paid results in the SERPS.

This follows the trend of making it more difficult to distinguish between the organic results and the paid results - Increasing the likelihood that people will click listings that generate revenue for google.

January 2017: Standard Text Ads Deadline – Extended Text Ads Only For All

Google has set 31st January, 2017 as a deadline for standard text ads. After this date, ads can be created only in expanded text ad format. Some of the advertisers, who haven’t upgraded to new ad format yet, will eventually have to start using expanded ads. The full impact of the expanded ads will then be more visible.
2016

May 2016: Extended Text Ads

extended text ads versus standard text ads annotatedGoogle announces at it's Performance Summit on May 24th 2016 that Extended Text Ads would soon be available to all advertisers on Google AdWords. The change from standard text ads resulted in a 50% increase in available text to use within ads. Key changes made were:
  1. Two headline fields instead of one
  2. Longer Single Description Line Rather Than Two Shorter Description Lines
  3. Two Optional “Path” Fields in the Display URL
  4. Domain of Display URL Now Based on Final URL domain
  5. Mobile Optimised Text Ads

What This Change Meant for SEO

This particular change to AdWords was met with further negativity by those who practice and invest in SEO as any increase in AdWords ad clicks is a click lost elsewhere, namely an Organic result.

With longer headlines and descriptions, the distinction between text ads and organic search results further diminished.

An Ofcom Adults’ media use and attitudes study published in April 2016 showed that a large percentage of audience couldn't tell ads and organic search results apart and that was even before the Google AdWord ad icons changed from a solid yellow fill to a solid green fill and then simply a feint green line. With this format of text ads, this percentage of audience can only go up.

One can expect to see a notable dip in Organic traffic with some predicting a decline as high as 20% over the months following the Extended Text Ads introduction.

Read the full breakdown of the changes Extended Text Ads bring here.

May 2016: Green ad icon

Green ad icon

Google changed the colour from the already-inconspicuous 'ad' indicator from yellow, to a shade of green imperceptibly different to the links in search results.

This has the effect of making ads and organic results look almost exactly the same - a far cry from the flamboyant multicoloured ads of years gone by.

May 2016: Wider ads

Wider ads

This is a tiny tweak which saw ads become slightly wider, as the comparison above shows. This harks back to Google's early days of testing multiple formats with small differences.

There's not much speculation surrounding this change! Image source here.

February 2016: no side ads, just top and bottom

No side ads

Google began to change the layout of its ads, removing sidebar ads on most queries and increasing the amount of ads at the top. This again drew calls of hypocrisy; only ads were visible above the fold on certain queries.

Their justification for this is that it brings desktop and tablet SERPs in line, and leaves more space in the side of SERPs for info-boxes.

Announced in multiple places, image source here.

2014

December 2014: ad customisers

Ad customisers

In another step designed to make things easier for advertisers, Google introduced ad customiser functionality. Advertisers could now provide a spreadsheet of products, discount amounts and deadlines for specific sales, along with an ad template. Google would then auto-populate the ad with relevant products and deals for each search.

Originally announced here.

July 2014: Dynamic sitelinks

Google introduced sitelinks that were automatically populated based on users' location and search queries, meaning that advertisers had to spend less time manually creating these.

These looked the same as previous sitelinks, hence no image!

Originally reported here.

2014: Change of design

new yellow ad icon

Google redesigned their ads at some point in 2014 (it's hard to find an exact date thanks to Google's preference for gradual roll-out). They decided to exchange the yellow box that used to contain ads for a small yellow 'ad' icon.

Speculation about their reasons for this was rife, with people settling on the consensus that it was to design away behaviour where users could easily scroll pass the 'ads section'. I.E., the more ads looked like organic results, the more likely users were to accidentally click them, and send more money Google's way.

Image source here.

2013

October 2013: Visual banner ads

banner ads

Google added eye-catching banners to certain search results, although the results themselves were organic. The handy image from Search Engine Land's report on this new feature shows this in more detail.

It also calls up Google on a pledge they made back in 2005, that there would never be "banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages. There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever."

July 2013: Up to 16 ads!

16 products

Google added an expansion arrow to the product listing ads, mentioned previously, which had proven to be popular. When you clicked this arrow up to 16 products were shown depending on the query, further increasing the amount of paid results per page.

Originally reported at Rimm Kaufman.

2012

November 2012: two changes announced

Google announced two changes this month:

Location and sitelinks

Location extensions and sitelinks could now both be displayed in the same ad.

Better maps

Maps in ad results were more comprehensive.

Originally announced here.

June 2012: Criticism of amount of ads

ads above fold

Some people asked whether Google were hypocritical as some search queries returned results where no organic listings were visible above the fold. This contradicts Google's own webmaster guidelines.

Image and story source: Bruce Clay.

May 2012: Shopping results pulled through with ads

Shopping results

Google Shopping results were integrated into SERPs for particular, transaction oriented terms.

Reported on Search Engine Land.

April 5th 2012: automatic local customisation

local automatically

This feature didn't change the way ads looked, but it did save advertisers a bunch of time. Thanks to a nifty piece of code, Google would automatically generate ads targeted to locations specified in search queries.

Originally announced here.

April 1st 2012: teleport functionality

Teleport

One of the main complaints Google received about their ads was that users had to spend time travelling to the advertisers' business before being able to purchase. Google rectified this by rolling out teleport functionality on certain searches, allowing users to move instantly through time and space.

Hang on a second...

What was the date of this announcement again?

Originally announced here.

February 2012: enhanced sitelinks

Enhanced sitelinks

Another tweak for sitelinks allowed advertisers to add information about each link, rather than just the main ad description.

Originally announced here.

Also note that for the last several points on our timeline the background of the ads has remained yellow! A nice departure from the random colours of the early years.

2011

November 2011: ads at the bottom of SERPs

Bottom ads

Google announced that it would begin moving ads from the sidebar to the bottom of the page. The justification was that it was more conducive to smooth browsing of the results page, as users didn't need to move their glance around the page so much.

Originally announced here.

June 2007: embedded sitelinks

Embedded sitelinks

In an attempt to make sitelinks more useful and intuitive, Google added the functionality for text within your ad description to automatically link through to relevant pages on your site. This makes the ad more useful for the user, and increases the granularity for the advertiser.

Originally announced here.

March 2011: +1 ads

Before:

Before +1

And after:

After +1

It's a bit sad looking back on how enthusiastic Google were about Google+ and the +1 feature. The logic was that people would be able to vote for content they found particularly useful (ads included!) and their friends and wider networks would see these endorsements.

Original announcement here.

2010

November 2010: ads on Google Image SERPs

Image SERPs

An image-based ad was added to the top of Google Image search results. The only thing that differentiated the image from the organic results was a small grey tag on the top right, and its size.

January 2010: Yelp integration

Yelp test

Google were experimenting with beefing up their local ads, and one method they tested was pulling through Yelp reviews (see the stars and link to Yelp in the yellow ad box). There was speculation as to whether Google would buy Yelp, but in the end they just improved Google local business listings over the coming years.

We found this update here.

January 2010: Clickable phone numbers

Phone clickable numbers

In the first mobile-specific update we found, phone numbers in sponsored links were clickable when accessed via a mobile device. This improved click-trhough rates and allowed advertisers to track how many calls they received through this channel.

Announced on the AdWords blog here.

2009

November 2009: Product listing ads

Product listing ads

This feature marked another effort to increase the value of an ad, and increase the likelihood that a user would interact with the ad rather than organic results.

Original announcement here.

November 2009: Sitelinks launched

Sitelinks

This feature displayed up to 4 additional URLs to give users access to landing pages that were more relevant to their queries. At this stage in their life, sitelinks only showed for ads who met certain (ambiguous) quality thresholds.

Original announcement here.

October 2009: Comparison ads

2009 comparison ads

In October 2009 Google announced comparison ads. These allowed users to compare offers more easily. This increased granularity for advertisers, and gave users more relevant information.

If users interacted with the ad they were taken through to a page where they could compare lots of options and pursue these with the advertisers:

2009 comparison ads detail

This shows Google's attempts to keep users within Google rather than heading to external sites.

2008

URLs above ad description

2008 urls above ads

In late 2008 Google begin experimenting with something that had been consistent since the very first ads: moving the ad URL to the top of the description, directly below the link.

This wasn't fully rolled out until 2012, which gives interesting insights into how long Google feels the need to test some things before being convinced.

The local 10-Pack

2008 local ten pack

In 2008 the ten pack became a regular part of sponsored links for local terms. This feature was tested sporadically on certain terms before being rolled out fully.

2007

Yellow

2007

The top ads returned to being yellow at some point in 2007 - who knows why?

One thing to note here is how distinct paid listings are from organic: over the coming years this began to change quite a lot.

2005

Early experimentation with info boxes

2005 amount of top ads varies

Amount and format of ads is still changing, although they seem to have settled on light blue for top ads. On a more commercial query like this you can see there are more ads: a trend that continues today.

An interesting feature to note here is the option to further tailor a specific search: this suggests Google have been exploring ways to refine search for many years. Today we see infoboxes on a lot of queries which are designed to make them more useful and customised.

Top ad returns for certain queries

2005 top ad still shown

Here you can see the top ad make a return, although it is confined to the left column rather than taking up the whole page.

The topic changes between the ad sections, too: ads on the right are about buying a house; the top ad is about the TV show.

2004

More stability

2004 more stable

The ads begin to look more like the ones we see today: no difference in colours between organic and sponsored links and no interest bar.

Ads are shown at the side of the SERP only.

2003

No ads in the top section

2003 no top section

On a majority of searches the top ads were removed.

2002

Purple heading for eBay?

2002 purple for ebay

There was speculation as to whether the purple colour seen here was used exclusively on eBay results.

Testing continues, interface evolves

2002 blue yellow grey

Yet more tinkering with colours, and the ability to bold ad text has been removed - this makes the ad formatting more consistent with the organic results.

In non-AdWords news, note the introduction of the Google Images tab. This launched in July 2001 although nowadays it's impossible to imagine Google without it!

2001

More experimentation!

2001 blue and pink

Only one ad at the top this time, and blue boxes at the side rather than green.

Experimentation with different colours for ads

2001 different colours

Pink and green ads seem alien nowadays but in the early stages Google did split testing with all sorts of ad colours and positions to see what worked best.

The sponsored links were clearly labelled and are clearly separated from the organic results.

Also note the spammy nature of most of the links. Even though 'casinos' is a traditionally spammy niche, nowadays the ads are of much higher calibre.

2000

October 2000: AdWords officially launched

Google officially announced the launch of AdWords with a lengthy press release, which you can read in full here.

One of the sentences is especially interesting given what ads look like today: "Google’s quick-loading AdWords text ads appear to the right of the Google search results and are highlighted as sponsored links, clearly separate from the search results"

No adverts!

2000 no ads

It's hard to imagine what Google looked like without ads, but here it is.

Related posts

New Hire @ Edge45

New Hire @ Edge45

Edge45 is thrilled to announce the arrival of another new member of staff – Andy Canter. He comes to us with a background in account management...

2 Comments

  • Posted August 6, 2016

    Bhavek

    Looking forward to seeing ETAs added to the timeline 🙂

Leave a Reply